BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — Danvers Patrolman John Melto gave at-times-tearful testimony yesterday in Salem Superior Court about his bloody scuffle with convicted Level 3 sex offender Roy Limbaugh on Popes Lane in August 2011.
It’s the first time that Melto has said in public what happened.
At 5:30 a.m. on Aug. 19, Melto was attempting to arrest Limbaugh, of 37 Popes Lane, on two traffic warrants. The department also had concerns about the lack of a work address listed on his sex offender registry form.
In the scuffle, Melto was slashed four times on the side and front of his throat and several times on his wrist and hand, and he suffered a cut on the back of his head, according to medical testimony and photographs of the injuries shown in court. No weapon has been found.
Limbaugh, who is acting as his own attorney with the help of standby counsel Joseph Collins, objected to Melto’s medical records being marked as evidence. After an out-of-earshot sidebar conference with Superior Court Judge Howard Whitehead, the judge allowed them.
Limbaugh faces seven charges related to the attack, including failing to register as a sex offender and armed assault to murder.
A vascular surgeon who operated on Melto, 49, the morning of the incident testified that the cuts to Melto’s neck barely missed his carotid artery, internal jugular vein and trachea.
“How close did those lacerations come?” Assistant District Attorney Gerald Shea asked.
“Several millimeters,” said Dr. Larry Goldberg, the trauma medical director at Salem Hospital. Melto, an 11-year patrolman, later required a second surgery on his hand to repair nerve damage and was out of work for 99 days.
Goldberg, whose testimony came before Melto’s, said the injuries appeared to have been made with some sort of weapon, and they could have led to Melto’s death.
When asked by Limbaugh how Melto might have received those injuries, Goldberg said: “Those appear to be slashing-type lacerations.”
During his testimony, Melto said he did not realize how badly he had been injured during the scuffle.
“When I pulled out my baton, I looked at my hand. I could see it was covered in blood,” said Melto, who became tearful at the thought.
Later, Limbaugh stood up to cross-examine Melto.
“At what point do you say you were injured by me?” Limbaugh asked.
“I realized it when I pulled out my baton,” Melto said.
“Did you see me cut you with a weapon?” Limbaugh asked.
“No, I did not see a weapon,” Melto said.
“How did your side mirror in your cruiser get broke when I was nowhere near your cruiser?” Limbaugh asked before Whitehead cautioned him not to add testimony or to make statements while questioning a witness. Limbaugh also began to read from the grand jury testimony that indicted him, at which point Whitehead cut him off.
“You cannot read from a document that is not in evidence,” Whitehead said.
During his testimony yesterday, Melto said that on the morning of the attack, he went looking for Limbaugh and drove down Popes Lane from the north and parked in front of Manter Construction, not far from Limbaugh’s motor home.
Melto noticed a light above the kitchen sink and knocked on the door.
“‘Roy’s not here,’” Melto said a voice answered after he explained who he was and why he was there.
“Get the (profanity) off my property,” the voice warned, he said.
Melto walked back to his cruiser. As he was about to leave, a car passed him going in the opposite direction and stopped. Melto said he assumed it was a lost motorist. The car pulled forward, stopped, backed up, stopped and pulled forward. A man got out of the car. Melto said he did, too, and they were both standing on Popes Lane.
“‘Are you the (profanity) cop who knocked on my door?’” Limbaugh asked, according to Melto.
Melto radioed for help and told the man that he was wanted on two warrants.
He said Limbaugh told him: “‘It’s these two (profanity) state troopers ...’” then “raised his hand in an aggressive manner.”
“I thought he was punching me, and I was trying to control his hands,” Melto said. Melto said he pushed Limbaugh away from him and warned him that if he did not stop, he would pepper-spray him, which he did.
“It had absolutely no effect on him,” said Melto, who went for his baton.
“That one second I saw blood on me, he retreated,” Melto said. Limbaugh got in his car, and Melto said he yelled at him not to drive off and stuck his baton in the door. Realizing that Limbaugh might drive off with his hand and baton in the door, Melto said he removed the baton, then began jabbing Limbaugh in the chest.
“He didn’t say anything, he just drove away,” Melto said. “I radioed I needed assistance ... sooner.” Melto started pursuit but began to feel lightheaded and pulled into the Brutole Restaurant parking lot at 65 Newbury St.
“I radioed I was assaulted by Roy Limbaugh,” said Melto, who described the red Volkswagen Jetta that Limbaugh was driving and gave a plate number. His injuries made it difficult for him to open a medical kit. He recalled the arrival of Sgt. Kevin Janvrin, who helped him with his wounds and called for officers to “step it up.” Eventually, firefighters and other help arrived, and Melto was taken to Salem Hospital.
Danvers Patrolman Graig LeBrun was first on the scene, followed by Janvrin. He found Melto outside his cruiser holding a dressing from the cruiser’s EMT kit on his neck.
“Did he appear blood-soaked?” Shea asked.
“Yes,” said LeBrun, who held a dressing to Melto’s wrist, which was bleeding profusely. LeBrun later went to Popes Lane to secure the crime scene and found blood on the pavement from the struggle. LeBrun, in answer to Limbaugh’s line of questioning, said he did not find any weapons.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.