Joe Gadigian and his stepson were headed home from a peaceful South Shore fishing trip last year when they saw a man standing over a state trooper, beating him with a baton.
Dozens had stopped in cars along the Robert Moses Causeway and were watching from a distance as the fight unfolded on a median.
Gadigian and Bill Bruno jumped right in.
At a State Police ceremony in Albany Thursday, Gadigian and Bruno, both of Bethpage, were formally commended for their bravery and credited with helping save a life.
Robert F. Orth, 29, who was the trooper beaten, also received a Superintendent's Commendation Award.
State Police said Orth fought with a man who initially refused to pull over during a traffic stop and then fled when his car became disabled.
The man, later identified as Steven Barraco, 41, eventually pulled over and then wrestled an expandable baton from Orth and repeatedly struck him in the head before Orth managed to fire his weapon. Barraco later died at the scene from the gunshot wound.
"What I expressed to these two fishermen was my gratitude that they did something great to help me," said Orth, who continues to undergo therapy for his brain injuries. He met the pair for the first time Thursday.
"My main feelings were that it was nice to share something positive with my family who have been through so many negative parts of this with me," he said after the ceremony at the New York State Police Academy.
Earlier this week, Gadigian said he didn't hesitate to intervene when he realized the trooper was in trouble.
"It makes me feel good to be recognized. But there was a lot of other people who could have got the award, but nobody did nothing," he said. "There were like 20 cars and probably 30 people and not a single person was approaching the problem."
Gadigian, 49, and Bruno, 24, were driving north from a fishing trip in Captree State Park on Sept. 13 when they happened upon the fight.
The two said they jumped from their truck and raced past onlookers toward the skirmish, startling the attacker, who took off running with the baton still in his hand. As he did, Orth fired once, wounding his attacker, State Police said.
Bruno, a former rugby player, said he tackled Barraco when he turned toward Gadigian, apparently ready to fight. The pair held the wounded but still flailing man until more police arrived.
"It was pretty crazy," said Bruno, who is the stepson of Newsday employee Lisa Doll Bruno. "We ran at the guy and the only reason he stopped beating the trooper is he saw us running after him." Orth, a six-year State Police veteran, was airlifted from the scene.
A grand jury reviewed the case in March and found the shooting justified, according to Suffolk district attorney spokesman Robert Clifford.