PARIS – When the story appeared on television news, describing a Paris EMT suspected of impersonating a police officer, Stan Larson said his whole family started weeping.

The story was about him, a hard-working first responder, who police had zeroed in on as their prime suspect in the creepy case of a man using a flashing red light on his car to stop a woman driver one night. The man pulled her over on a remote stretch of road in Waterford last winter, but drove off after she asked for identification.

“It was very emotional,” Larson, 37, said about that moment when his brother, sister-in-law, wife and children were at his parents’ house and turned their attention to the news. “There wasn’t anyone who wasn’t crying,” including his 2-year-old daughter, who teared up because everyone else was, he said in an interview last week.

Between being summoned to court on a charge of impersonating a public officer last February, and the moment in Oxford County Superior Court 11 months later when a jury declared him not guilty, Larson’s life was shadowed by the grave allegation.

After Hurricane Katrina hit, Larson got a job working for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in New Orleans, where he is now and will be for another two months. Back briefly for vacation, Larson took time to speak with the Sun Journal. As he recalled the past year, Larson’s face, which tends to look pensive and thoughtful, tilted at times into deeper sadness.

Larson, a licensed emergency medical technician and firefighter from Paris, was suspended from two ambulance jobs while his case was pending in court, and finances grew tight. His family of five scraped by on savings. He looked for odd jobs. The Paris Fire Department organized a collection for his family.

Larson’s family had to push back their dream of buying a house, made harder now $14,000 in legal fees. “It’s still a dream of ours,” he said.

But the real toll of being falsely accused may have been more emotional than financial, not just for Larson, but for his whole family.

“I’m not a person who cries a lot, but I did a lot of crying the first couple of months,” he said. As did his wife, Lynn. “I know quite a few times Lynn and I cried and said, Why is this happening to us?'”

He added, “I’ve tried really hard over my life to do the right thing, and then have this happen crashed all of it really quick.”

When police began their investigation, evidence started piling up against Larson. A composite sketch by the victim resembled Larson, and the victim picked him out of a photographic lineup. Larson also drove an old police cruiser and carried a broken emergency light in the back, which fit the woman’s story. The district attorney argued, too, that a previous burglary conviction when Larson was in his early 20s indicated he was capable of breaking the law.

But Larson is amazed that police nailed him as the only suspect. He said he was sleeping in his Paris home the night of the incident, after working 14 hours that day.

His friend and boss at Tri-Town Rescue in West Paris, Norm St. Pierre, said recently by phone, “Looking at the charges and knowing I had talked to him that night and knowing how tired he was, it was just an unbelievable accusation.”

Plus, Larson is neither heavyset nor tall, nor does he speak with a stutter, as the victim described.

For the first month after the accusation, Larson could barely leave his house. Part of it was the anxiety of bringing down more trouble on himself.

“I was nervous everywhere I went,” Larson said. “Am I going to say the wrong things? I bottled up for a month, didn’t go out, and closed myself up in a little room.”

When he did go out, he said he felt people were treating him differently, looking at him oddly.

Larson’s two teenage boys got counseling to help them get through the ordeal. They said they were teased at school, and the youngest developed a new cynicism toward authority figures.

Larson turned to his friends and family to cope.

“I don’t know how many times I went and unloaded my woes on them,” Larson said about his colleagues especially. “They were my counselors.”

They also dragged him out of the house during his darkest days, he said.

St. Pierre refused to suspend him from Tri-Town, even though PACE Ambulance in Norway and Med-Care Ambulance in Mexico did.

“I gave him the benefit of the doubt. He’s always been right there for me or for our service,” St. Pierre said. “He’s a people person, and he loves to help. I respect everything this guy does; he’s 100 percent.”

After two days of testimony, the jury deliberated over two days. The tension of the family was palpable as they sat in the courthouse hall. When the verdict was read aloud, practically every family member in the courthouse with Larson that day broke into tears.

“It was my reputation and my family’s reputation on the line,” Larson said. “If they believed the state, my reputation would have been ruined.”

Although, many months before, a stranger had predicted a positive outcome.

Soon after the newspapers reported the story, an unknown, older man stopped to relay a message to Larson.

“I was at work and having a cigarette,” in West Paris, Larson said, “and a guy pulled up and said, Not everyone’s against you. It’ll work out in the end.'”

“He drove off and left and I’ve never seen him again,” Larson said. “Just the fact that a citizen would come up and say that, I am assuming he was trying to make me feel better.

“And my job is to try to make them feel better.”

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