A 34-year-old man accused of shooting at an off-duty police officer on Ortega (74) Highway near Lake Elsinore pleaded not guilty Thursday to gun assault and other charges.

Keith Frederick Prante of Mission Viejo was arrested at his residence Sunday following an hourslong investigation by the California Highway Patrol.

Along with firearm assault, Prante is charged with shooting at an occupied vehicle and carrying a loaded semiautomatic pistol in an unlawful manner.

He was arraigned before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Judith Clark, who scheduled a felony settlement conference for March 11 at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta and left the defendant’s bail set at $135,000. Prante is being held at the nearby Byrd Detention Center.

According to CHP Officer Mike Lassig, shortly before 8 p.m. Saturday, the victim, identified as a San Bernardino police officer with the initials “T.S.,” was going east on the 74, approaching Decker Canyon Road, when Prante abruptly stopped directly in front of him, blocking his path along the narrow two-lane corridor.

There was no immediate word on what prompted the action.

Lassig alleged that Prante leaned out of his vehicle holding a .40-caliber pistol and opened fire on the driver’s side of the victim’s car. However, none of the bullets penetrated the windshield.

The defendant sped away, but traveled only a couple of miles before pulling over to the shoulder of the highway, according to Lassig.

T.S. spotted Prante and, “fearing for his safety, stopped just west of the suspect’s location,” the CHP officer said.

“The victim observed the suspect produce a handgun out the driver’s side window and begin to reverse toward the victim’s location,” Lassig said. “The victim, fearing for his life, fired a handgun … toward the suspect.”

No one was injured.

Lassig alleged Prante immediately drove away, heading into Lake Elsinore, and the off-duty policeman trailed him at a safe distance, making a note of the license plate on the defendant’s vehicle, which soon disappeared from view.

The victim called 911, and CHP officers and Riverside County sheriff’s deputies quickly converged on the area.

Lassig said Prante was identified as the alleged shooter, and his whereabouts were confirmed the following morning, at which point he was taken into custody without incident.

The circumstances behind the alleged attack remain under investigation.

Prante has no documented prior felony convictions in Riverside County.

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