SEMINOLE — Pinellas deputies Cpl. Michael Papamichael and Detective Paul F. Cooke were singled out among their peers during an awards ceremony Wednesday.
In March 2010, the two also found themselves paired up, but the situation was anything but celebratory.
According to officials, here's what happened:
Alexander B. Epstein, 19, was so obsessed with guns he was known to practice his quick-draw in the mirror.
At a party in Clearwater on March 20, 2010, Epstein shot three young men, killing two and sending the other to the hospital for a monthlong stay, authorities said.
Later that day, deputies from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office tracked Epstein to a home on Clearwater Beach. Confronted by Papamichael, Epstein pulled a handgun from his waistband and pointed it at the deputy, officials said.
Papamichael opened fire, striking Epstein four times.
Cooke rushed in to help, pulling his cruiser between Epstein and Papamichael to provide cover for the corporal.
"He was trying to protect me," Papamichael, 41, said Wednesday.
Epstein lay on the ground, his finger still on the trigger of the gun in his outstretched hand. The deputies yelled at him several times to stop moving. When Epstein refused, the deputies opened fire again, killing him.
Papamichael and Cooke were honored Wednesday afternoon in front of their peers, friends and family at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office annual awards banquet at the Seminole Recreation Center Complex.
Both men said they were humbled by the award, which they say came at the conclusion of a tragic event that left a total of three people dead.
"The reality is that we took a life," said Cooke, 57.
But Sheriff's Office officials praised the men for risking their own lives to stop a rampage that could have claimed more lives. The two were named the Pinellas sheriff's Deputies of the Year for 2010, a prestigious award created in 1973 by two longtime Pinellas County residents, the late Ruth and Tim Johnson.
The two officers were among nearly 200 agency members honored at the ceremony, including the agency's robbery/homicide unit, which solved each of the 13 homicides it investigated last year, and the team that worked more than 400 hours building a case that led to the 2010 conviction of the drunk driver who hit and maimed Andrew Hall in Safety Harbor in April 2009.