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Pasco Tribune

Man trapped in car after fall at Publix dies

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Published:   |   Updated: May 22, 2013 at 12:02 AM
TRINITY -

Justyn “Jay” Ambrozia, the man who survived three days trapped in his car eating pound cake and ice cream cones for sustenance, died last week.

The 90-year-old Trinity man went into cardiac arrest on May 16 while at the Medical Center of Trinity and could not be revived, his son, Justin Ambrozia, said.

Justyn Ambrozia was admitted to the hospital the night of May 2, his son said, after an April 30 fall inside the Trinity Publix.

Justin Ambrozia, 52, his father's only child, said he wants some answers to what happened to his father.

Ambrozia, who will catch a flight back to his home in Scranton, Pa., Thursday morning, has retained Naples-based personal injury lawyer Sharon Hanlon.

“I'm going to approach this level headedly,” he said. “There are a lot of elderly people probably looking at this case down here and veterans as well.”

After learning his father was in the hospital, Justin Ambrozia traveled to Florida on May 13. Ambrozia was able to spend four days with his dad before his father's death. He said the time together did them both some good.

“He didn't really recognize me when I walked in [May 13] until I got close, then he says, 'Oh' and he's grabbing my face,” Justin Ambrozia said, placing his hands up to his cheeks. “Believe me if I had came down here and he had already died… Those four days, we talked. Look, it was closure.”

The fiercely independent Justyn Ambrozia, a native of Scranton as the son of Lithuanian immigrants and winner of two Purple Heart medals in World War II, will have his ashes spread over the Scranton grave of his mother, Bertha Kusula.

On the morning of April 30, Justyn Ambrozia went to Publix to buy a few snacks. He told friends he tripped and fell to the floor. As he fell, he reached out with his left hand to catch himself on a shelf, but the structure gave way.

He suffered a broken leg and broken left arm. Both required surgery. He also needed four stitches to close up a cut on his right leg. He had a third surgery on May 14 for a “small” case of diverticulitis, Justin Ambrozia said.

After falling in the store, friends said Justyn Ambrozia was picked up by Publix employees, placed in a wheelchair, without being checked by medical personnel. He filled out paperwork. After he paid for his groceries, he was taken in the wheelchair to his car.

Ambrozia drove home and backed his teal Chevrolet Beretta, as he normally does, into his garage around 10:30 a.m. That's when it was apparent the injuries were too severe for Ambrozia to exit his car, friends said.

He honked his horn repeatedly, until the car battery died. Ambrozia opened and closed the garage door several times, but no one noticed.

Ambrozia used the snacks he purchased for nourishment over the three-day period.

For each day he was trapped, Ambrozia placed a cookie on the dashboard, neighbor and friend John Collins said. Ambrozia told neighbors the cookies helped him keep track of how long he had been trapped.

Neighbor Tim Weidman was walking by Ambrozia's home on May 2 when he saw the garage door partially opened.

Ambrozia, because of the broken leg, had slid down in his seat, unable to support his body weight. His head was almost even with the steering wheel when he saw Weidman walking past, Ambrozia stuck his hand out of the car window.

Weidman spotted him and called for help.

“To move someone like that and not know their injuries, pick them up… if they can't get up on their own, don't touch them,” Collins said. “Pick them up, put them in a chair and take the responsibility of saying, 'Oh, he's OK.' Take them to the register, ring out his groceries and then take him to his car. Come on. It's not fair.”

In a statement, Publix spokesman Brian West said: “We are deeply saddened to learn of Mr. Ambrozia's passing. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this difficult time.”

The company, headquartered in Lakeland, is conducting an internal investigation.

The morning of his dad's death, the two were having normal conversations and Justin Ambrozia said he had found a rehabilitation facility less than two miles from his father's Mitchell Ranch Road home.

“I said I'm taking off for a little bit to meet with somebody at Life Care,” Ambrozia told his father. “They gave me a tour of the building Thursday morning. I came back and gave him the thumbs up.”

After leaving the hospital again, Justin Ambrozia received a phone call on his cell phone just after 5 p.m. May 16. His father had died.

On Monday, Justin Ambrozia sat at a neighbor's kitchen table, looking toward his father's home next door. He was searching for a memory.

Just before Christmas 2011, his dad went to a Pasco County Walmart and had a photo taken. In that photo, Ambrozia wore a baseball cap his son had found for him. The cap read: “I'd Rather Be in Scranton, PA.”

He sent that photo to his son as a gift.

“He wore that hat and he was proud,” Justin Ambrozia said. “He had his arms crossed. He's confident, stomach real flat. That's what kind of sticks in my mind right now. That picture.”

Ambrozia said that memory overshadows the one of his dad trapped in a car for three days.


edaniels@tampatrib.com

(813) 371-1860

Twitter: @EDanielsTBO

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