TARPON SPRINGS — Salvatore Miranda was helping Charlie Mitchell order a book when a man came behind the reference desk, punched Miranda in the right cheek and took off.
"His eyes opened widely and he came right at Sal and threw a single, direct sucker punch at him," said Mitchell, 65.
Miranda, 45, screamed in "tremendous pain," drawing the attention of staffers and patrons, Mitchell said.
Mitchell, a former Navy corpsman, tended to the librarian, who suffered fractured facial bones, until paramedics arrived. Bystanders sprang into action to capture Paul Poekert before he ran out the front doors.
Taxi driver John Carnemolla was on a library computer researching photography when he heard the commotion.
Carnemolla, who is 6 feet and 270 pounds, got up when he heard Miranda scream.
"I figured I was going to be separating a fight, but it was an attack," he said Thursday. "I said, 'I've got to chase this guy.' "
Poekert ran for the doors with Carnemolla close behind. Two other men grabbed Poekert seconds before Carnemolla closed in.
"They pounced the guy. He was struggling," Carnemolla said. "I grabbed his feet to finalize it."
The three men wrestled Poekert to the ground, then held him until police arrived.
Poekert, 39, was charged with felony battery. On Thursday evening, he was being held in the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $5,000 bail.
According to Tarpon Springs police, Poekert's attack was unprovoked.
At the scene, Poekert was screaming that Miranda was "trying to kill him," said Carnemolla, 42. Poekert, a transient, may have mental health issues, said police spokeswoman Lt. Barb Templeton.
Miranda, who has worked at the library for more than a decade, was treated and released from Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Carnemolla said his instincts kicked in when he heard Miranda's scream.
"It's like you're a lion or a dog and you see something running in front of you and you're not sure why, but you need to chase it," he said.
Staffers and patrons rushed to get Miranda towels and ice, Mitchell said.
People at the library applauded Carnemolla and the two men who came to Miranda's aid. "He had support throughout the library," Mitchell said. "Everybody was on his side."
Times staff writer Demorris A. Lee contributed to this report. Rita Farlow can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4157.