In the pre-dawn darkness, cabbie Mohamed Khalil drove away, unaware that his fares had not yet taken the third piece of their luggage from his minivan.
He was also unaware that the case left on the seat contained a violin worth about $4 million, an irreplaceable 1723 Antonio Stradivari "Ex-Keisewetter" that was on loan to Grammy-nominated violinist Philippe Quint.
Once he found out, he knew there was only one thing he could do.
"It's nothing belonging to me," Khalil said Wednesday. "I just had to return it."
Khalil dismissed his action as "nothing exceptional," but Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker enthusiastically disagreed.
At a City Hall ceremony Wednesday, Booker called Khalil an "extraordinary, heroic person" and presented the father of three with a medallion signifying the city's highest honor.
"This is a time when a person in our city saw something awry and did not take personal advantage," Booker said, noting he had only presented about five of the medallions since taking office nearly two years ago.
"The loss of this just wouldn't be devastating to one man. This is a work of art," he said. (MORE)