DANVERS — Jonathan Spear, a medical equipment company manager, was listening to the radio as he drove toward Fall River on the morning of Aug. 19, 2011, and had heard a report about police looking for a suspect in an attack on a police officer earlier that morning.
Soon after that, Spear realized, “I was being tailgated.”
“When he passed me, I observed the driver covered in blood,” Spear told a jury yesterday. He could see the driver’s arm and upper torso, he testified.
And he noticed that the car was a red Volkswagen Jetta, just like the one he’d heard described on the radio.
That’s when he grabbed his cellphone and dialed 911.
When he read the license plate number to the state police dispatcher, “they said that was the car.”
That car was being driven by Roy Limbaugh, prosecutors allege, after Limbaugh ambushed a Danvers police patrolman, John Melto, leaving him with life-threatening injuries.
Limbaugh, 60, formerly of 37 Popes Lane, Danvers, is standing trial on charges that include attempted murder and failing to register as a sex offender. He has represented himself during his trial and is expected to take the witness stand this morning.
Spear, the first witness called yesterday by prosecutor Gerald Shea, said the dispatcher asked him to follow the red Jetta as it merged from Route 93 to Route 24. Spear continued on down the highway for a few minutes and then watched the Jetta take an exit in Stoughton.
Spear, still updating the dispatcher, followed until the Jetta pulled into a lot at E&J Automotive and went behind a fence. He pulled over and waited for police to arrive, then directed them toward the fence.
Limbaugh tried to challenge Spear’s account, suggesting that if the Jetta had a manual transmission, Limbaugh would have been shifting gears while passing and Spear would not have been able to see Limbaugh’s arm.
“I’m not sure what your question is,” Spear responded.
“That was the question,” Limbaugh responded.
But under re-direct examination by Shea, Spear said he had seen Limbaugh’s arm after Limbaugh had passed him. And, he said, he had once owned a car with a manual transmission and was still able to drive with one hand.
Another witness, Marie Dyer, told jurors how she was awakened by the sound of two men arguing.
Dyer, who lives on Popes Lane directly across from Manter Construction, where the violent confrontation occurred, recounted to jurors what she heard.
“You’re harassing me, you’re bothering me, you’re watching me,” Dyer said the first man yelled.
Then she heard the other man yell, “Don’t you (expletive) move.”
Then she heard scuffling, and then the sound of a car taking off up the street, followed seconds later by a second car that sounded even faster.
She couldn’t see anything because of high shrubs outside her home.
If police were hoping the confrontation was caught on surveillance video from the Manter security cameras, those hopes were dashed when officers realized that the exact spot where it occurred was part of a slice of Popes Lane that was not covered by the cameras, Danvers police Detective Robert Sullivan testified later in the morning.
Jurors also heard from some of Limbaugh’s former employers and a former co-worker, as well as Limbaugh’s former landlord, who had allowed him to live in a travel trailer on his property.
Steven Ziolkowski said he had used the lot to store landscaping equipment and allowed Limbaugh to rent a spot for his trailer and several other vehicles.
Ziolkowski told jurors that he hadn’t seen Limbaugh in the weeks before the incident but had spoken with him through a screen door a few days earlier, asking about rent.
Limbaugh, who at several points throughout the morning was reminded by Judge Howard Whitehead not to turn his questions to witnesses into his own testimony, asked his former landlord if he recalled that conversation.
“Do you remember me saying to you I will pay you in a couple of days and the reason I can’t pay you is my truck has been stolen? Steve, I need you to think real hard,” Limbaugh said.
He went on to ask Ziolkowski if he recalled another discussion about his truck, after police took the license plates because the registration had been canceled (allegedly due to a lack of insurance).
“I says to you Steve, I says, ‘Steve right now things is slow for my moving business. I have no place to put my truck. I’m stuck,’ and you told me to park it across the street?”
“No, I never told you to park your truck anywhere across the street,” Ziolkowski responded.
Limbaugh, throughout the case, has insisted that as a self-employed “independent contractor,” he was under no obligation to disclose where he was working at any given time, a claim challenged by prosecutors and police.
But during his testimony yesterday, Robert DePardo, of the state Sex Offender Registry Board, may have bolstered Limbaugh’s position when he acknowledged that he did not know whether an independent contractor would be required to report his work location. He did tell jurors that if a sex offender spent more than a few days at a location, the offender would have to report that to police.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.