TRINITY -- Tim Weidman was walking by the white stucco house when he noticed a withered hand waving from the car in the garage. He walked up the driveway. A muffled voice followed:
“I can’t get out of my car,” said 90-year-old Justyn “Jay” Ambrozia, slumped in his driver’s seat so that only the wisps of his silver hair could be seen over the dashboard. “Can you help me?”
Weidman called 911. An ambulance arrived last Thursday afternoon, and neighbors followed the commotion into the garage. Someone gave Ambrozia a glass of water.
Inside the car, neighbors found Fig Newtons and a half-empty sleeve of ice cream cones in the passenger seat, a nibbled-on pound cake on the floorboard. Later, they would learn these had been Ambrozia’s only sustenance for days.
Paramedics gingerly pulled him from his june bug-green Chevrolet Beretta. He lay crumpled on the gurney because his broken bones kept him from stretching his legs, his ankles swollen from lack of circulation and lips chapped from dehydration. The ambulance took him to the Medical Center of Trinity, a community north of the St. Petersburg area.
From his hospital bed on Tuesday, barely strong enough to talk, Ambrozia told his story.
He said he left his home on Mitchell Ranch Road at 10:30 a.m. April 30, a Tuesday, headed for a nearby Publix. He was walking around a corner in the store when he fell. He doesn’t know how it happened. In desperation, he grabbed a shelf, which gave way. His left side hit the ground first, breaking his wrist and hip.
Employees saw him and came to help and took down his information, he said. They loaded him into a wheelchair, he said, and helped him into his car in the parking lot.
The shooting pain in his leg started when he was halfway home. He doesn’t know how he managed to back his car into the driveway. By the time he did, his wrist was swollen and so tender he couldn’t pull the car’s door handle. He was trapped.
Ambrozia said his car battery died as soon as he got into the garage, so honking the horn for help wasn’t an option. He used his remote to lift and close the garage door in the hopes of flagging someone down, but to no avail.
So he left the garage door open and stared out the windshield from his front-row seat to a world that was oblivious to him.
Cars passed, then days. A postal worker passed by without hearing his cries. The sun turned the garage into a sauna. He ate his groceries — the ice cream cones, Fig Newtons and pound cake but there was no water.
“Jeez, it’s been three days,” he remembers thinking. “I hope I don’t die in this car.”
On Thursday afternoon, he made his last cry for help as Weidman passed on the sidewalk.
Reached via email, Publix spokesman Brian West said he doesn’t know the exact day Ambrozia fell in the store at 3100 Little Rd. in Trinity. He said Publix is investigating the incident and contacted Ambrozia.
“We wish our customer a speedy recovery,” West wrote.
Neighbors know Ambrozia, a retiree from a VA facility in Scranton, Pa., as a funny, active, caring man.
John Collins, 62, who lives next door, said he usually sees his 90-year-old neighbor outside doing yard work in a pair of shorts.
Recently, Collins said, his significant other had been mowing Ambrozia’s back yard, but he insisted on mowing the front.
“He’s so damn strong spirited,” Collins said.
Tuesday afternoon in the hospital saw a weaker man. Ambrozia slept in a cool, dark room with tubes coming from his arms and his wrist covered with an elastic-bandage cast. His elbow was purple and swollen to the size of a softball. He talked softly. On his right wrist was a yellow bracelet that read “Fall Risk.” He’s had at least one hip surgery since Thursday.
Ambrozia was born in 1922. He said he was drafted into the Army after the Pearl Harbor attacks and sent to the European theater as a buck sergeant in the 30th Division of the 119th Infantry. The last time he remembers being stranded was when he and his troops got lost in Paris for six hours during the war. He said he was demoted one stripe.
The experience prepared him for what happened last week, perhaps in his cavalier attitude toward the incident.
“I can’t complain,” he said. “When something like this happens, it happens.”