A tow truck operator is being credited with saving the life of a man whose leg was severed in a crash on the New Jersey Turnpike on Tuesday.

Alex Petruccio, 27, of Pennington, a driver for Treat's Garage in Windsor, was sent on a call for a disabled car in the southbound inner lanes near Exit 8A in South Brunswick and saw the car parked on the left shoulder — a spot he calls one of "the most dangerous places" to stop on the Turnpike because of its narrow shoulder.

The occupants of the car, Jianjun Yin, 60, from Vienna, Virginia and his wife, who was driving, pulled over after hearing a plastic shield dragging along the road underneath and wanted to be taken to a Honda dealer for repair, according to Petruccio.

The EMT and former lifeguard at the Quarry Swim Club in Hopewell said "things got really good before they got worse," as the left lane was clear of traffic when Petruccio went about his work trying to get the car loaded onto his truck. Petruccio said he took advantage of the break to get the couple into his truck.

"I hear truck doors shut, I turn around and see the lady in the truck and I realize that the guy didn't follow her. He's standing on the line almost in the fast lane," Petruccio said. He stepped between Yin and the traffic which had begun to build again.

Petruccio said there was a language issue and said the man stepped forward, possibly to shake his hand.

That feeling of security was quickly broken when Petruccio heard a screech and a bang.

"I look up and see a car maybe six cars back or so just swerve out violently into the shoulder and it's coming straight at us like a missile coming right at us," Petruccio said.

As Petruccio jumped out of the way he yelled at Yin to move.

"Behind me I hear 'boom!' It was like something out of a movie.There were pieces everywhere flying through the air and smoke and everything. And when I turned around I saw the guy and he was laying in the bed of my truck and his entire leg was severed off completely. I mean 100% it wasn't there," Petruccio said.

Petruccio said in that split second he realized this was "real" and he had to do something.

State Police spokesman Sgt. Alejandro Goez said that a Buick Century hit a Jeep Cherokee in the left lane, sending the Jeep onto the right shoulder, hitting the Honda and Yin.

Petruccio said he ran over to Yin, who was a bit confused at what had happened and was trying to get up. He said he repositioned Yin so he wouldn't fall off the truck, then ran to the cab of his truck to have Yin's wife call 911 and to look for rags or something to stop the bleeding.

The person who struck Yin came out of his car and was standing with his hands on his head in shock at what had happened. Petruccio said he yelled at him to take the belt off from his pants.

"I ran and grabbed his belt from him, jumped on the back of the truck, wrapped the belt around what was left of the guy's leg and just pulled as much pressure as I could. By this time the woman had come out of the truck and she was understandably hysterical," Petruccio said.

In his rush, he found a roll of paper towels and had Yin's wife put pressure on what was left of her husband's leg to stop the bleeding.

"It was an amount of blood I've never seen in my life," Petruccio said.

Petruccio called the Turnpike dispatcher and reported that the traffic was getting worse, as drivers were now rubbernecking and slowing down in heavy traffic to take a look.  Another also driver stopped to help.

"You could see the look on his face was 'what did I just walk into,' but he snapped out right out of it, jumped right on the back of the truck, and me and him went to work trying to keep the bleeding under control," Petruccio said. He couldn't recall his exact words, but recalled the man said he was a retired or off-duty trooper.

Several other people also stopped to help, including a man who said he was a retired EMT and had a medical bag. He handed gloves to everyone as they wrapped Yin's leg. Petruccio had Yin's wife talk to him to keep him alert.

Petruccio was taken aback as the State Police trooper ran up and then ran away.

"He ran up expecting that nothing had been started and realized we had it under control until medical got there, so he went back to clear traffic for the helicopter," Petruccio said.

It was Petruccio's taking charge of the situation that earned him credit for saving Yin's life, according to State Police spokesman Lt. Ted Schafer. The troopers who responded to the scene all believe that had Petruccio not taken the action he did, Yin would have bled out.

Adam Mackie, the manager of Treat's Garage in Windsor, said that Petruccio has worked for him for two years, and praised his driver for his quick action.

"When things went bad, he thought very quickly," Mackie said, adding that everyone at Treat's is impressed with what he did and don't know what they would have done in the same situation.

"He has a concern for everyone else in this world and tries to help everyone as he can," Mackie said.

Petruccio credits his time riding with the Pennington First Aid squad with preventing him from freezing up, and recalling his training. He has since bought a medical bag for his truck.

The incident also made him realize the importance of abiding by New Jersey's "Move Over Law" and the impact a distraction behind the wheel can have.

"People don't realize that something as simple as moving over and slowing down can save somebody's life. This affected so many lives, even my family is horrified by this. And the guy's family too and what they have to deal with now is absolutely horrible just because somebody was, who knows, distracted for a little bit. People don't understand that something as ordinary as looking away can have an extraordinary consequence," Petruccio said.

The reason the driver of the Buick lost control remained under investigation, according to Goez.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ.

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