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Teenager: 'My dad was trying to save my life'

Two cars collided on a country road in May, coloring the night with blood and fire. Krystyna Swanson's jaw was broken three ways. A paramedic called her father, a doctor, who rushed to the scene and pushed past emergency workers into the ambulance.

For this the father went to jail.

Karl Swanson was charged with battering an emergency worker and a law enforcement officer, both felonies, because they said he pushed them aside in his haste to reach his daughter.

The story made national news and inspired the cable news host Tucker Carlson to publicly browbeat a Florida Highway Patrol major for what Carlson called a ludicrous adherence to his "precious rules."

The case slipped from the spotlight, but neither side backed down. Swanson hired a powerful lawyer, who filed motions and marshaled experts. The State Attorney's Office pressed on with prosecution, albeit on a reduced charge: failure to obey a lawful order, a second-degree misdemeanor.

At the trial on Tuesday, 18-year-old Krystyna Swanson testified in her father's defense.

"My dad was trying to save my life," she told a reporter. "He should be considered a hero instead of a bad guy."

Now a jury would decide.

- - -

The story, hashed out through more than four hours of testimony Tuesday, goes something like this: Swanson, a 48-year-old anesthesiologist from Holiday, got the call on the night of May 2, after dinner and wine at Carrabba's Italian Grill.

He sped to the crash site on Starkey Boulevard in New Port Richey, swerved around a sheriff's patrol car, nearly crashed into a rescue helicopter, jumped the curb, parked his black Volvo and jumped out the window.

He ran to the ambulance. Emergency workers outside told him to stop, but he kept going. He climbed inside and saw Krystyna, who had broken bones and a head wound. A paramedic was drawing her blood to test for alcohol. The test had been requested by Trooper Terry Goswick, who was convinced Krystyna has been drinking.

It is unclear how long Swanson stayed in the ambulance, or exactly what he did there, but Goswick threw him out and restrained him on the ground.

The emergency workers took Krystyna to the helicopter, preparing to fly her to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.

"I was asking if my dad could come with me," she recalled in court. "I was told he had been arrested."

Assistant State Attorney Neil O'Brien rattled off a long list of Swanson's transgressions. He breached a roadblock. He entered an accident scene without permission. He endangered everyone by his near-collision with the helicopter. He wore surgical scrubs and claimed to be a doctor, but he didn't show proof. And in his quest to save his daughter, he was so frantic he made things worse.

"Just because he's a doctor doesn't mean he's above the law," O'Brien told jurors.

Meanwhile, defense attorney John Trevena poked holes wherever he could.

He brought in an audiologist to show that Swanson had moderate hearing loss and might not have heard the commands above the drone of the chopper.

He argued that Swanson didn't interrupt medical care, since the paramedic was performing a blood draw, and he pointed out that Krystyna Swanson's blood-alcohol level turned out to be zero. And he said that Swanson was merely doing what any father - especially one with his skills - would have done.

"The state," he told the jury, "is essentially wanting you to convict Dr. Swanson for loving his child too much."

The jury agreed. Just after 8:30 p.m., after nearly two and a half hours of deliberation, they found him not guilty.

- - -

Swanson turned around, leaned over the bar and tightly embraced his daughter.

He beat one charge. But he still faces another.

Swanson was charged with domestic battery for an Aug. 29 incident involving his live-in girlfriend, Rhonda Allen. According to his arrest report, he scratched her face and punched her cheek.

During the trial Tuesday, an expert talked at length about how anesthesiologists such as Swanson specialize in keeping airways open during traumas.

According to the report from the Aug. 29 incident, Swanson put his hands around Allen's neck and held a pillow over her face.

Thomas Lake can be reached at tlake@sptimes.com or 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245.

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