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Former Superior police sergeant faces 11 new charges stemming from fatal crash

Gregory Swanson faces 12 charges, eight of which are felonies, stemming from his alleged involvement in a fatal crash that resulted in the death of a 23-year-old man and a 2-month-old infant.

Officers block a fatal crash scene from the view of passing motorists
Officers block a fatal crash scene from the view of passing motorists along East Second Street on Friday, July 15, 2022, in Superior.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — A former Superior police sergeant accused of killing two people and injuring two others during a traffic crash waived his preliminary hearing in Douglas County Circuit Court Wednesday, Aug. 24.

Gregory Swanson, 42, of Solon Springs, now faces 12 criminal charges, eight of which are felonies. An amended complaint filed Monday, Aug. 22, includes charges related to two deaths that were caused by the crash and injuries received by the two surviving occupants of the vehicle that was struck.

Gergory Matthew Swanson.jpeg
Gregory Matthew Swanson
Contributed / Douglas County Jail

Swanson faces two counts each of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle, homicide by use of a vehicle with a prohibited alcohol concentration and hit-and-run resulting in death. Each of the six counts is a class D felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

He also faces two counts each of causing injury by intoxicated use of a motor vehicle and causing injury by use of a motor vehicle with a prohibited alcohol concentration, all misdemeanors; and two felony counts of hit-and-run resulting in injury.

Swanson, who was released on a $15,000 cash bond following his initial appearance July 18, appeared in person at the hearing Wednesday with attorney Chris Gramstrup.

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According to the criminal complaint, a vehicle Swanson was driving struck a disabled sedan with no lights in the right lane of the 5200 block of East Second Street at about 1:17 a.m. July 15. A 23-year-old man was reported dead at the scene, according to a news release. He had been behind the vehicle pushing it at the time of the crash. Another occupant of the vehicle, 2-month-old Elijah Michael Ojanen, died four days later from blunt force trauma suffered during the crash, according to a news release from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner.

A blood draw indicated Swanson had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.190 at the time of the crash, more than twice the legal limit, the amended complaint said.

Two additional occupants of the vehicle — a woman and an older child — were treated for injuries caused by the collision at Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center, including whiplash, a laceration and bruising from child safety restraint straps.

After striking the vehicle, Swanson reportedly drove to the Holiday Gas Station a few blocks away. A witness at the gas station told a Douglas County Sheriff’s Office deputy they saw Swanson get out of his vehicle with a six pack of alcoholic beverages and throw them into a garbage can, the criminal complaint said.

A man and his daughter who were heading south on East Second Street on their way home from work came upon the disabled vehicle with the man lying in the road, according to the amended complaint. They called 911 and stopped to help. They reported seeing a dark colored van with damage to its front end leaving the scene headed toward the Holiday Gas Station. They told officers they heard the woman at the scene say, “Why are you leaving? Somebody help me.”

Swanson is no longer employed by the Superior Police Department. He tendered his resignation effective Aug. 4, according to Chief Nicholas Alexander.

"I told him that there were two options moving forward, based on Wisconsin law. One would be I seek his termination through the process with the PFC or he resigns," Alexander said. "Both paths led to no longer being employed here. He obviously took the resignation path."

Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Tara Jenswold is serving as special prosecutor for the case. Douglas County Circuit Court Judge George Glonek said he intends to continue to preside over the case, most recently in an Aug. 19 letter sent to Jenswold and two of the victims.

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“I am in receipt of your requests that I recuse myself from the above captioned matter based upon your concerns that I will be unable to fairly and impartially preside over this case,” Glonek wrote. “I am sorry if you feel that way, but it does not change my position that I have no valid reason to recuse myself.”

Glonek said he is not a personal friend of the defendant, does not socialize with him and does not travel in the same circles. Judges and law enforcement officers do not work together on cases; they have distinct and separate roles in the criminal justice system, Glonek wrote.

“My job as an elected official is to preside over cases assigned to me unless there is a valid reason for me to recuse myself in any particular case,” Glonek wrote. “There simply is no valid reason for me to do so in this case.”

Swanson’s next court appearance was set for Sept. 19.

This story originally gave incorrect information on Swanson's employment with the Superior Police Department. It was updated at 11:30 a.m. Aug. 25. It was originally posted at 3:50 p.m. Aug. 24.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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