BEVERLY — A Beverly firefighter crawled on his stomach across the peaked roof of a church to save a man who appeared ready to jump to the ground 50 feet below.
Capt. Peter O'Connor reached out and grabbed Roberto Yapor by the belt as Yapor began to step over the side of a ladder that firefighters had raised.
"He started to make a motion with his foot," O'Connor said. "I scooted along and grabbed his belt."
The dramatic rescue took place in downtown Beverly around 2:15 p.m. in front of more than 100 onlookers and dozens of rescue personnel, as traffic crawled by on Cabot Street. An apparently distraught Yapor had climbed onto the roof of the Memorial United Methodist Church at the Corner of Cabot and Dane streets and was there for about 45 minutes.
Beverly police identified Yapor as a 50-year-old man from Beverly and said he had been arrested on Sept. 20 for a third drunken-driving offense. He was taken by ambulance to Beverly Hospital and will be charged with vandalism to the church, police said.
Cynthia Ramsdell, who was helping to prepare for Saturday's rummage sale at the church, said she knows Yapor from her work with homeless people. She described him as "very quiet and respectful" but said he was also "very depressed."
"He used to come here for supper, but I hadn't seen him in a while," she said.
Beverly fire Chief Richard Pierce said Yapor was on a lower roof of the church when firefighters arrived and was trying to climb to the higher roof. Two firefighters and a police officer climbed the ladder truck's aerial ladder to try to talk him down, "but he was definitely intent on making that higher roof," Pierce said. "He was tearing shingles off and clawing his way up."
Yapor shimmied his way across the peaked roof to the Dane Street side of the building. Pierce ordered the ladder truck's ladder raised on that side in an attempt to block Yapor from jumping, but he turned around and crawled back to the other side of the roof.
Yapor lay on his stomach at the edge of the roof and appeared to be crying at one point. Pierce said he did not respond to firefighters and police who tried to talk to him.
Whenever Yapor moved, it looked as if he could easily slip down the sides of the roof or fall over the front onto the pavement below.
"I thought he was going to jump a couple of times," Pierce said. "I held my breath a few times."
With Beverly's ladder truck stationed on one side of the building, Pierce ordered Beverly's dispatcher to put out a call for a ladder truck from a surrounding town, and the Danvers Fire Department responded.
Danvers firefighters raised their ladder and Yapor stepped off the roof and onto the ladder. But as Danvers firefighters Craig Vesey and David Mondi began climbing the ladder to reach Yapor, he swung one foot over the side of the ladder as if to jump off.
O'Connor, who had been standing on the ladder at the other end of the roof, had crawled onto the roof and was about 20 feet away when Yapor swung his foot. O'Connor quickly crawled over to Yapor, grabbed him by the belt and pulled him back onto the ladder's platform.
"As soon as Pete touched him, it looked like he pulled his leg back," Pierce said.
Vesey, Mondi and O'Connor helped Yapor down the ladder. As they reached the ground, Yapor became uncooperative and began yelling at police and firefighters. He was handcuffed and placed in an ambulance.
Pierce said the Boston Fire Department was ready to respond if needed with a giant inflatable bag to prevent injury if Yapor had fallen.
Pierce praised the teamwork of firefighters and police.
"It tied up a lot of personnel and a lot of equipment, but the outcome was good," he said. "Nobody got hurt."