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Hero of burning car rescue: No time to think, just to act

Old Lyme - There was no time to think.

A car on Route 156 was on fire, its hood completely engulfed in flames. An unconscious woman was behind the wheel, her head against the window, her seat belt starting to catch fire.

Jesse Matarazzo, 18, parked his truck a safe distance away in case the burning Subaru Forester blew up. Seconds earlier, he'd had little else to worry about other than drop his girlfriend off at her car in the commuter lot and catch his early-morning flight to Indiana the next day to visit family.

With his girlfriend waiting by the truck, Matarazzo, a 2009 graduate of Lyme-Old Lyme High School, ran to the driver's side to try to save the woman he feared was already dead.

The woman, whom Old Lyme police later identified as 31-year-old Jocelyn Berg of Manchester, survived the accident late Wednesday and was still at Yale-New Haven Hospital as of Friday evening.

"I just ripped the seat belt somehow," Matarazzo, reached on his cell phone in Morresville, Ind., said Friday. "I don't know. I guess I got adrenaline or something, 'cause I wasn't going near that, 'cause it was on fire."

Matarazzo, who had been enrolled in the nursing program at Three Rivers Community College but said he planned to take some time off from school, carried the woman out of the car and laid her down on the ground behind his truck.

"I put her behind my car just in case that car blew up," Matarazzo said. "At least she was protected by my truck."

Berg had been driving north on Route 156 near Talcott Farm Road when her car veered off the right shoulder and struck a tree, police said.

Matarazzo was unhurt.

"I just lost a little hair on my arm, that's all," he said.

Berg regained consciousness before the emergency crews arrived, Matarazzo said. Reached Friday in her hospital room, Berg said only that she wanted to thank Matarazzo "for saving my life."

Matarazzo said he was still somewhat shocked about what happened that night but said he didn't consider himself a hero, as some are now calling him.

"I think anyone would have done it," Matarazzo said.

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