Suspect Charged in Four Arizona Freeway Shootings

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By Phil Helsel

Charges were officially filed Wednesday against a man accused in some of a series of shootings along an Arizona freeway that put Phoenix-area drivers on edge.

Leslie Allen Merritt Jr., 21, was charged with 16 felony counts, the Maricopa County Attorney said.

He is only accused in four shootings on I-10 that occurred between Aug. 27 and Aug. 30, although seven other cars and trucks were hit by either gunfire or projectiles in incidents confirmed over the next 11 days.

Shooting suspect Leslie Allen Merritt Jr., makes his initial appearance before a judge at the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015.Rob Schumacher / The Arizona Republic via AP

Merritt, of Glendale, was arrested on Friday. Police say a gun belonging to him but which was pawned has been matched to bullet fragments in the four shootings.

Merritt was charged Wednesday with three counts of drive by shooting, six counts of aggravated assault, three counts of unlawful discharge of a firearm, and three counts of disorderly conduct, and one count of endangerment, the county attorney said.

Merritt, who is being held in lieu of $1 million bail, has denied being involved.

"My gun’s been in the pawn shop for the last two months, I haven‘t even had access to a weapon,” he said at a court appearance Saturday.

But police say their evidence shows the gun was not in pawn status at the time of the four shootings. The co-owner of Mo Money Pawn said Tuesday that video and records show Merritt picked up the gun on Aug. 22 and brought it back on Aug. 30.

"He brought it back after the shootings in question took place," Eric Baker told NBC station KPNX.

And state police said Wednesday the shootings may have began earlier than once thought.

Officials had initially said they began Aug. 29, but a driver of a BMW that had been parked at an airport and later discovered a flat tire caused by a bullet now isn't sure when the shooting occurred, a spokesman said.

While several vehicles were hit, only one person was injured in the spate of freeway shootings.

A 13-year-old passenger was slightly injured by flying glass after one of the bullets allegedly fired by Merritt crashed through the windshield of a vehicle on Aug. 29, police said.

Authorities haven't named any suspects in the other shootings, and have said some of the incidents may have been the work of copycats. One of the incidents, a Sept. 8 shooting that involved a bullet, was preceded by "road rage," the Arizona Department of Public Safety has said.

The Associated Press contributed.