For each day he was trapped in his car, Justyn “Jay” Ambrozia would place a cookie on the dashboard of his teal Chevrolet Beretta.
The 90-year-old World War II veteran had become stuck in his car inside the garage of his Mitchell Ranch Road home because of a broken hip and injured left arm.
A neighbor found him on Friday – four days and four cookies later.
Ambrozia told neighbors the cookies helped him keep track of how long he had been trapped.
Ambrozia was injured following a fall inside a Pasco County Publix store on the morning of April 30. After backing into his garage – the snacks he bought still in his passenger seat – he found himself unable to get out of his vehicle.
Ambrozia couldn't open his car door because of the wrist injury. No one saw him using the remote to open and close the garage door.
Ambrozia, who needed surgery on his hip, is recovering at Medical Center of Trinity. A hospital spokesman said Wednesday he was declining media interviews.
Neighbor Tim Weidman was walking by Ambrozia’s home on May 3. “I see the garage door is down just a little and I see a hand come out the driver’s side door,” Weidman said. “I hear, ‘Can you come help me,’ and I thought he needed help with his car.”
Friends of Ambrozia say he was shopping inside a Publix store on the morning of April 30 when he tripped and fell to the floor. On his way down, he reached out with his left hand to catch himself on a shelf, but the structure gave way.
Neighbor John Collins said his friend – whom he calls “Bro” – was helped into a wheelchair by two Publix employees, loaded into his car, and allowed to drive himself home – all without medical attention.
Before leaving, Ambrozia filled out store paperwork about the fall and bought a pound cake, ice cream cones and other snack items. A white copy of the paperwork was to go to Publix’s risk management file, a yellow copy was top stay on file in the store and the pink copy was to go home with Ambrozia.
“What do they do, just, anybody falls and, ‘You’re OK, you’re OK,’” Collins said. “Sign this and put them in their car?”
Ambrozia found sustenance by eating cookies, his pound cake and one of his ice cream cones.
Collins, who has lived next door to Ambrozia for about two years, said he is kicking himself for not checking on his friend. He didn’t hear the horn honking before the car’s battery died. He also didn’t make his typical trip next door to see his buddy.
“Actually, I’m still rather pissed off at myself,” Collins said. “As a general rule, if I don’t see him during the day, I go over and knock on the door and this and that. I don’t know if it’s because I came down with this flu or whatever it was, distracted me. … I felt terrible about it.”
He described Ambrozia as very independent. He cuts his own lawn, takes out his own garbage, even cleans the gutters on his house.
Publix, which is headquartered in Lakeland, has launched an internal investigation into the matter, according to spokesman Brian West.
“All I can tell you is that it did occur,” West said. “We have reached out to him and we have made an attempt to contact his family. Aside from that, we of course, are hoping he gets better very quickly.”
Collins, who has visited Ambrozia in the hospital and has been looking after his home, said his friend, although still in pain, was in good spirits Wednesday morning.
Since he has been in the hospital, Ambrozia cut his signature “split” goatee. Why?
“He says, ‘I gotta look younger for these babes,’” Collins said laughing, referring to the nurses.
Vivian Burnett, who has been staying with Collins, has spent time as a caregiver as well as a nurse’s aide and said she is willing to take care of Ambrozia as he mends from his injuries.
“Just to have somebody else around,” Burnett said.
“Even though we’re not all related, isn’t it basically the same? If someone needs help, give it,” Collins said.