A former champion wrestler who battled heroin addiction in his native New Jersey came to Delray Beach looking to start a new life.
A year after he got here, Dustin Deckard had a girlfriend, a job he enjoyed and a support network of loyal friends.
On Thursday, two days before his 23rd birthday, all of that came to a tragic end on a stretch of road near a cemetery in Delray Beach. Shot to death in what appeared to be a robbery, Deckard's body was found lying in the road in the 1100 block of Southwest 10th Street at about 12:30 a.m.
His grieving father Michael Deckard said Dustin, 22, was a "great kid" who was "very respectful to everybody."
"Anybody that did know him knew that he was a great person," Michael Deckard said from his home in Pennsville, New Jersey, where Dustin grew up.
Deckard said that he was still trying to process Dustin's death Thursday, just hours after receiving news that his boy had been killed.
Delray Beach police said that after Deckard's body was found, investigators got a description of a vehicle that may have been used in the murder.
That information was passed to Boynton Beach Police and officers there stopped the vehicle as it drove along Congress Avenue.
After questioning, three men were charged with first degree murder: Sherman Colson, 22, Kevin Sammiel, 27, and Thomas Byrd, 21.
Police said all three men have long criminal histories. Combined, the suspects have 55 felony charges with four convictions. Those felony charges include attempted premeditated murder, multiple weapon possession charges, robbery with firearm and other numerous violent crimes.
Before fate brought him to 10th Street, Dustin Deckard made headlines in 2009 after battling a heroin addiction in his high school years. At the same time, he was a champion wrestler but his addiction ended up sapping his strength in a semifinal, costing him a shot at wrestling for the state championship.
"I got in that state semifinal, and I just died," Deckard told nj.com in May 2009. "I scored the first takedown, and I just wasn't in shape. [Heroin] cost me that semifinal."
Asked Thursday if it appeared that Dustin had overcome his addictions, his dad said it had looked that way.
"It seemed like it, he seemed like it," Michael Deckard said.
Dustin came down to Florida about a year and a half ago and had been working at Bru's Room Sports Grill in Delray Beach, where stunned colleagues Thursday described him as a "one of a kind" who "always had a funny story up his sleeve."
"He had a heart of gold," said 25-year-old Bobby Burke, a co-worker. "He opened his arms to everyone."
"He was the light of the staff," added Nick Comsa, general manager of Bru's Room. "He was the most outspoken of the bunch — he was the top seller."
About six months before moving to Florida, Deckard volunteered to help his old coach, Pete DiPol, teach kids how to wrestle at a New Jersey high school.
DiPol, now a college coach, often used Deckard as an example for his wrestlers, who all grew fond of the quick-witted Deckard.
"Look at Dustin," DiPol would say. "He made some mistakes, but he's on the right track now. Stay smart and do the right thing."
DiPol said Deckard would always smile and agree.
"Don't do what I did," Deckard would say of his days as a doper.
According to a May 2009 article on nj.com, Deckard was a four-time district wrestling champion and state qualifier at Pennsville Memorial High School and Camden Catholic, winning a regional championship in 2007.
The heroin addiction began while he was a sophomore at Camden Catholic, DiPol said.
"I did [heroin] everyday I could," Deckard told nj.com. "At home, in bathroom stalls at school, and I stole to pay for it. I can honestly say the only people I didn't steal from were my mom and dad. I'd take iPods, phones, sell them for $10. Looking back now, it was so stupid. Kids think they can control it, only do it on weekends. That's the way I felt, but it wasn't the case."
By late 2009, Deckart was an honors student at Wilmington College in Delaware, studying criminal justice. He had plans to become a police officer and worked as a toll collector. He said he wanted to be the kind of cop who "lets you know you can still turn your life around."
Deckard said he had turned his own life around.
"At this point, everything is positive for me," he said. "I don't want to go back to using. I'm in a good place right now."
But like many recovering addicts, Deckard eventually faced his old demons once again.
About 18 months ago, he walked into Royal Recovery Resources in Delray Beach looking for help.
The sober living community seemed like his only hope to kick a heroin addiction that turned him into a shell of his former self.
"He came in banged up," said Frank Cid, owner of Royal Recovery. "He was skinny and broken down."
Over the next five months, Deckard lived at a sober living townhouse in Delray, got a job waiting tables at Vic & Angelo's and kicked his addiction.
Then, he went back home to New Jersey, where he fell into old habits.
A few months later, Deckard called Cid, and Cid welcomed him back to Royal Recovery. Within three months, Deckard had a job, a girlfriend and an apartment of his own.
But in the last two weeks, something changed.
Deckard moved into a new halfway house in Delray, Halfway There, just six blocks from where Deckard's body was found.
Shortly after his death Thursday, rumors began to fly around.
Some said he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, Cid said.
"Other people said he was copping dope," Cid said, "but that's all speculation."
Michael Deckard was asked how his son should be remembered.
"As a good person that always had a nice smile and was willing to help," he said. "He was just a generally good person. I know that's hard to believe these days but he was just a good person. He always had a smile on his face, he was happy go lucky."
Staff researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.
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