Man charged in fatal shooting of Justin Bechtold


INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Law enforcement detained a suspect in connection with the fatal August 2021 shooting of 25-year-old Justin Bechtold. The suspect, Dukarai Lee Thomas, was found by U.S. Marshals in Tallahassee late Wednesday and arrested.

Thomas, 24, of the 4700 block of 39th Avenue, Gifford, was charged with first-degree murder. Thomas was held Thursday at the Leon County Jail in Tallahassee without bond.


It was unknown when Thomas was expected to be extradited to the Indian River County Jail. Indian River County Sheriff Eric Flowers said Thomas and Bechtold had dealings involving illegal drug transactions.

Dukarai Lee Thomas

Deputies said the shooting involved a marijuana purchase. Investigators said Thomas might have felt ripped off from previous drug buys involving Bechtold.

“This is another senseless, tragic murder over marijuana,” Flowers said during a Thursday afternoon news conference in front of the sheriff’s office. “Bechtold should still be with us. We still don’t have specifics on why Dukarai decided to murder this man in his own driveway over a marijuana transaction.”

Bechtold’s parents, Tim, 58, and Michelle, 50, of Sebastian, said Bechtold was planning to take over the family’s business, Bechtold’s Well Drilling, Inc. As months lingered on without any arrests, Bechtold’s parents said they remained faithful in God that their son’s killer would be caught.

“He would give the shirt off his back for anybody,” Michelle Bechtold said. More than 10 other family members and friends were present at the conference.

“Everybody loved Justin. He was funny and a hard worker,” said Tim Bechtold, who was planning to retire when his son took over Bechtold’s Well Drilling. “We were very close. The outpouring from the community has been incredible.”

Justin Bechtold

Bechtold lived in Sebastian for most of his life until he moved to a home in south Vero Beach about two years ago, his father said. He worked as a well driller for Bechtold’s Well Drilling, Inc., according to his obituary. Bechtold was working toward getting his well drilling license.

His hobbies included camping, fishing, boating, riding four-wheelers, taking cruises and traveling with his family, his obituary showed. Bechtold had a passion for sports and enjoyed watching football and NASCAR racing.

A month before the shooting, the Bechtold family took a trip to The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort in Lake Buena Vista, according to Michelle Bechtold.

“Justin was of the Christian faith and loved life to the fullest, his smile was infectious, his hugs were tight and his soul was bright. He loved and cared for people and animals,” a passage from Bechtold’s obituary showed. “Justin never missed an opportunity to spend quality time with his family and friends and all the fur babies in the family!”

What happened

Indian River County sheriff’s deputies responded to reports of a body found in a driveway about 3:45 p.m. Aug. 8, 2021, at Bechtold’s home in the 4300 block of 5th Street Southwest.

Justin Bechtold

Deputies arrived and found Bechtold with a gunshot wound to the back of the head, reports show. He was taken to the Vero Beach emergency room, where doctors pronounced him dead.

No weapons were found in the area at the time of the shooting.

The sheriff’s crime scene unit, along with several sheriff’s patrol vehicles and a fire rescue ambulance, arrived a short time later at the scene of the shooting. Deputies in tactical gear surrounded the neighborhood.

Sheriff’s officials at the time asked anyone with information on the shooting to contact Treasure Coast Crime Stoppers at 1-800-273-TIPS or

The shooting left many heartbroken, with some social media users describing Bechtold as a “son, brother and best friend.” Bechtold’s parents left a heartfelt message about their son in his obituary.

“Justin will be treasured forever by his family and friends; they were thankful for the time they had with him,” a passage from Bechtold’s obituary showed.  “As his parents we were honored and blessed to raise such a bright loving soul, whom if you had the chance to meet could capture memories that left footprints on your heart. We thank God for the gift of Justin.”

Finding Thomas

Through investigative means, deputies identified Thomas as a suspect after discovering he and Bechtold had previous transactions over marijuana. Flowers said deputies found Thomas’ Nissan car hidden in Gifford and seized the vehicle.

Deputies learned Thomas fled to Tallahassee. Detectives obtained a warrant for Thomas’ arrest on Sept. 15, 2021 – more than a month after the shooting – brought him back to Indian River County and charged him with unlawful use of a two-way communications device related to the drug transaction.

Flowers said Thomas refused to speak with detectives.

Thomas was released three days later from the Indian River County Jail on $250,000 bond, jail records show. Detectives on April 19 were finally able to obtain a warrant for the murder charge for Thomas.

U.S. Marshals found Thomas late Wednesday in Tallahassee again, where he was taken into custody.

“I just want to thank the Indian River Sheriff’s Department for all of their hard work, especially Detective (Craig) Thimmer,” Tim Bechtold said. “I thank God for all the prayers answered.”

Photos by Kaila Jones

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