I asked Heddings about the possibility that he would get out and his fiancée wouldn’t. He said, “Anything could happen."
On November 18, 2002, pro skateboarder Neil Heddings drove his van to San Diego to pick up his two-year-old son, Marty. Heddings’s fiancée Christine Rams, their new baby, and Rams’s four-year-old son had come with him. They collected Marty and then drove back to the house where they lived in San Jacinto. Five days later, on the morning of November 23, Heddings and Rams discovered that Marty was dead.
Heddings, Marty on shoulders, Joey in background. "I’ve always enjoyed the fairness that the Reader has seemed to convey to its audience."
Heddings told police that Marty had been sick and was vomiting. The night before, he had fallen during a bath and hit his head. The autopsy showed that the toddler had died of head trauma, and on March 3, 2003, Heddings and Rams were arrested. At their preliminary hearing, the forensic pathologist testified that the injuries were not consistent with a single fall.
I talked to deputy district attorney Kelly Hansen about this. I asked how they determined the injury wasn’t caused the way Heddings claims.
“Well, the child had ten small contusions underneath his scalp,” Hansen said. “So unless he fell ten times in the bath — he’d have to fall, get up, fall again… It’s common sense this didn’t happen.”
I asked what the charges against Heddings and Rams are, and Hansen stated, “They’re being charged with murder and assault on a child causing death.”
What’s the difference between assault on a child causing death and murder?
Hansen explained, “Murder requires either implied or explicit malice.”
Neil Heddings was born on May 19, 1974. He grew up in Newberg, Oregon, 24 miles southwest of Portland. I asked his mom, Shirley Bookey, to tell me about his early life. “Neil started skating when he was nine or ten. We had gotten his older brother, Shon, a green plastic skateboard for his birthday. He tried it a few times, then just let it lie on the lawn. Neil and his little brother Mitch started messing around with it. Neil started right off, just like he knew what he was doing. He got the nickname ‘Neil the Wheel.’ We didn’t have helmets and knee pads, so Neil got quite a few knocks and bumps.”
Bookey told me at first that the lawyer had suggested she not talk to me. But when I promised to keep the subject away from the death of her grandson and talk only about her son’s skating, she agreed to e-mail me answers to my questions.
“When he was 14,” Bookey wrote, “he and his friend Jason Beaudry would spend hours skateboarding, building ramps. Neil and Jason went to their first competition in Salem, Oregon, when they were 15. Neil’s size is one of his best assets. He is five foot five and is lean and muscular. He would read a lot about Tony Hawk and other riders and say, ‘I’m gonna be like them, Mom.’ We couldn’t keep a pair of shoes on him. He would have a new pair, and by the end of the week, the shoes would have holes in them. He would put Shoe Goo and duct tape on them.”
Around 1990, skaters began building a skatepark under one end of the Burnside bridge in Portland.
“The boys would get rides into Portland, to skate under the bridge,” Bookey continued. “Neil would stay with friends on the weekends so he could help build the skate bowls at Burnside. Cement trucks donated whatever they had left at the end of their day and would work for hours on the skatepark. It never rained too much for Neil and his friends to skate.
“He got a job at Nap’s IGA here in Newberg as a box boy when he was 15. It supported his habit for skateboarding. Skateboards just started appearing. In school, I would say he was an average student. He got Bs and Cs. He did skip a few classes to go skate, which I learned about after the fact. He enjoyed reading, especially Stephen King. And he was also a very good writer and wrote short stories and a few poems. When you get a letter from Neil, it’s like he is right there sitting across from you and talking.”
Sage Boulard now works for Dreamland Skateparks, building skateparks all over the world. Boulard and Heddings worked together on building Burnside. I asked Boulard about this.
“I met Neil when we started working on Burnside. That was the first skatepark. That was the one that exploded. That’s how we started our company. The skateboarders in Oregon had battled for years to get something, somewhere to skate. The city wasn’t responding. The skateboarders took action into their own hands and poached some land underneath the Burnside bridge and started building. The city recognized that as a good thing. And local skaters were skating there and building there and actually cleaning up the area and using the trash under the bridge as fill underneath some of the ramps. And cleaning up the graffiti in a couple-block radius around the park and trying to better the area. And get the local businesses and merchants on our side, so to speak. And there was a new law passed five years ago that states that skateparks fit into the hazardous-sports category. It basically fits in the same category as baseball fields, soccer fields, and basketball courts, which are everywhere, in every town. So this new wave of skateparks started springing up and escalating.”
So you started building and skating with Neil around what time?
“At least ’91, possibly ’90. He just started showing up at Burnside. He would get out of his car and just stand around for a long time, watching as we rode these crude transitions, and ripping. We were just having a good time. He was baffled by how gnarly we were getting under the bridge. He slowly got involved with our crew and localizing the area and was so excited about it. He drove in from Newberg. We had a really bad reputation down there for being gnarly guys, being outsiders. But it’s not that way at all. It’s just the reputation. We welcome everybody in, until they blow it and push themselves out.”
What do you mean, if you didn’t like their attitudes, or they didn’t know how to skate?
“It had nothing to do with their skateboarding ability. It was just — we don’t want people around that are blowing it. It could be anything.”
Is it like some surfers who don’t want people surfing their area unless they are local or are really good?
“This is a whole different scene. Everyone was welcome and invited in, until you specifically blew it for yourselves, by…I can’t think. Doing something really dumb. Burnside has been around since ’90, and only a small handful of people are actually 86ed from the park for life. It’s not like something about disrespecting some other person. The park is pretty much its own little scene, its own little country. We’ve policed it ourselves, run it ourselves, built it ourselves, with no outside help from the city.”
I asked Shirley Bookey when it was that Heddings first came to San Diego. “He and his friend Jason, and Steve, who they call Pigpen, made their first journey to San Diego in June 1992. It was the day after graduation. They were in heaven. That’s where the weather is the best, they said.”
After a couple of weeks, Heddings and his friends returned, and “Neil moved to Portland to go live with and work for Brian Bean at the Palace — just a few blocks down from the Burnside bridge. This is where the first skateboard with his name on it came from.
“Getting sponsored,” Bookey continued, “that’s what it was all about. ‘They pay you, Mom. I’m sponsored by Graffix, by 1984. I’m sponsored by Randoms, Vans, Independent, Pig Wheels, by 151.’ I don’t even know who all. Neil started getting into magazines in 1993, as far as I know. Thrasher was the first, I believe. Neil would call and tell me what magazine he was in and what page, and I would go buy it. Thrasher, Slam, Slap, Big Brother, Transworld, Skateboarder, you name it, he’s been in them.”
Skateboard companies had become big business, with their sidelines of clothing and shoes. If a board with a skater’s name on it sold for $50, the skater might get two bucks for each one. Skaters also got income from other products, ranging from stickers to posters to berets.
I talked to Brian Bean, who started Palace skateboard-manufacturing company in Portland. He said, “Neil was one of the first people on board, helping me out as far as getting the company up and going, making the skateboards, the woodwork.”
So he can skate and build the boards too?
“Yeah, he’s smart like that. He started working for me around 1994 or ’95. We worked on Burnside together. The company evolved from that project.”
What are some of the things you and Neil did at Palace?
“We just made wood skateboards. No wheels. We just pressed the wood, cut it out, silk-screened it, and sent it out the door. They were sold all over the U.S. We sold to Spain, Germany, the UK. It got to the point where it was so cold in Portland during the wintertime, we couldn’t press the boards. So we moved everything down to San Diego.”
Is the company still in business?
“We closed down. I’m in San Francisco now, working with furniture and doing metalwork.”
How long did Neil work for you?
“Close to a year and a half. He created some stuff and had free license. He did some graphics, drew some. He came up with some shapes for the skateboards.”
Neil’s mom told me the first board he designed was built at Palace.
“Yep,” Bean said. “It’s actually hanging on the wall right here. It was a dinosaur. In Portland there are these two twin towers, and it was a picture of a dinosaur crashing between those towers, like Godzilla.”
Jordan Powell is a friend of Heddings’s from Oregon. I asked about Heddings’s skating style. Powell said, “He was good and full of potential. When he met Pigpen, he came out of his shell. He stopped holding back. He used to be all tech. But he found his niche and killed it. He’d wake up, drink a beer, and go skate. Big shit. It got bigger and bigger. He’s got the fucking gorilla grip — his feet. It’s just crazy. We were just watching some footage today of shit of him at Burnside six years ago, killing it. When you watch him skate, you can hear it. See it. Some people do tricks and land and barely make it, and sketchy. He would do something, you’d hear his tail hit; you’d hear him grab the board, or flip it, and catch it, and then land it and smack it down, feet on the board. It’s, like, you seriously forget about everything when you watch him skate. You wonder how the fuck he does that.”
What’s the hardest move you’ve ever seen him make on a board?
“He’s done this before, but I filmed him doing it for the first time at Burnside. He does a frontside 270 kickflip and he grabs it frontside, like five feet high. But when he landed it, the first time he did it, his foot, his heel was hanging off the nose of the board. Like, if he didn’t put his feet on the board, he would’ve broke his ankle off. That was probably one of the gnarliest things I’ve seen him do.”
On the Skateboarding Motion website, Bryan Sise, the CEO of Athletic Motion, says this about the first time he saw Heddings skate.
“It was in Burnside, in 1996. It was a cold, wet day in Portland. The kind of day that makes falls hurt twice as much as normal. Most of the locals were sitting on their decks on the bird-crap-covered platform, sipping on Pabst Blue Ribbons with their hoodies pulled tight over their heads. But as the wind swept torrents of rain under the Burnside bridge, one skater was still riding. With his mesh hat backwards and his shorts reaching lower than his knees, I thought at first that he was a little kid. But rarely do little kids perform frontside rock ’n rolls on tiny transitions with five feet of vert. As Neil rocketed up a two-foot-wide cement pillar, it became obvious that he knew the peculiarities of Burnside like the back of his hand. Witnessing Neil in action was my introduction to the Portland skate scene. A scene that is very different in its style and outlook than its California counterpart. Such differences are testament to the diversity that pervades the sport.”
San Diego County has some of the sport’s biggest stars. Tony Hawk, the biggest name the sport has ever seen, lives in Carlsbad. Another big name, Bob Burnquist, moved to Vista in 1996.
Heddings’s mom explained how her son came to live in San Diego. “Getting sponsored, Neil started going back and forth from Portland to San Diego on tours. Finally he just stayed down there, as he liked it so much. He made a lot of contacts and worked at the Skateboard Heaven for Mario and Steve.”
Skateboard Heaven is in Ocean Beach, right next to the Robb Field Skateboard Park. I asked co-owner Steve Guido, who opened the place in 1999, what Heddings did for the shop. He said, “He rode for the shop, and he worked here on and off, whenever he wasn’t on tour. Whenever he came back. He’d bring Marty in to work too.”
Where was Neil living?
“Well, he lived over there on West Point Loma for a couple years. He would go tour and come back and put all his stuff in storage. Float around. When he was living on Green Street, near the shop, he sometimes left this number as his own.”
Marcus Heddings, nicknamed Marty, was born on March 15, 2000. I asked Guido if Heddings lived with Marty’s mom, Susie Moyer.
“He lived with Susie for around a year and a half. It was near the end of 1999 and into 2000.”
Is there a specific season when skateboarders go on tour?
“Different things come and go. Vans might have a tour. He was sponsored by Vans. Or the Triple Crown, or whoever he was sponsored with before. His board company, wheel company. They might put him on tour.”
How long would a tour last?
“Usually a few months. Some would be three, some four months. Others just a few months.”
Mostly in California?
“Some were California, some nationwide. They went all over. They had tours in Europe, Australia, Spain…lots of places. Once Marcus was born, I think Neil only went on a few tours.”
Pro skateboarders don’t make the kind of money pros in the NBA or NFL are making, do they? Is Tony Hawk the only one making the big bucks?
“Well, the thing about Neil is, he’s a skater. One hundred percent skater. He doesn’t care about the money. It’s the companies that came to him and said, ‘Hey, we’d like to pay you, we’d like you to wear our product or skate with our product.’ He would do it for free. I’ve known him for a long time, and maybe he should’ve sold out to the bigger companies. But that’s not who he is. There was a time he was living in his van. Here is a professional, one of the absolute best skaters, and you talk to, like, Chad Muska — who is a pro that makes a lot of money, he is up there; you have Tony Hawk, then you have the next level, like Burnquist, Muska — and he was saying Neil was his favorite skater growing up.
“He was always loyal to the shop,” Guido continued. “And when we had skate camps, we’d pay pro skaters to attend. But he wouldn’t want any money to attend. He would be there for free with the kids. And at one of our skateparks downtown [Skateboard Heaven on 12th], we are famous for our trade show. The same time as Street Scene. We have a wall-ride competition — we pay out a thousand dollars to the winner and best trick. All the pros come, and amateurs. Most come and they say I’m So-and-So big name, just kick back and drink beer, and wonder when they can win their money so they can get out of there. But not Neil. He would, from the minute he’d get there, from the time he’d win, he’d continue skating. We’d say, ‘Hey, Neil, you’re going to tire out.’ He’d say, ‘I don’t care. I love skating.’ That’s what separated him from the rest.”
I got another interesting story about Heddings not being overly concerned with the financial aspects of skating. The call came from Steve Douglas, who recently retired after 14 years as the president and founder of 411 Video Magazine and president of Giant, a skateboard-distribution center. A career accident ended his pro skating career, but he made lots of money on the business end.
Douglas said, “A good friend of mine, Joe Lopes, had died. He didn’t have any insurance and left behind five kids. We did this barbecue benefit, with a back yard ramp, to raise money for the family. Heddings had won the contest and won a few thousand dollars. Now, it’s not like professional baseball players that have so many endorsement deals and shoe contracts with Nike and make so much money from the teams. Competitions like this are how skateboarders make their money. Well, Heddings overheard me and a friend talking about having the winners possibly donate some of their winnings to the cause. Heddings jumped in and said, ‘That’s a great idea.’ He donated his entire winnings, not just some, which I thought was amazing. And he didn’t even know Joe Lopes. He may have heard his name, but he didn’t know him. His family needed help, and he was there. Heddings just seems like an honorable guy. A guy that cares about families. Initially, I heard the social workers just jumped to conclusions because of his tattoos. But I don’t know the facts of the case. I don’t want to even think about how this will all come out. I can’t even speculate. I just thought Heddings was a good-spirited guy.”
In regard to how much Heddings was making as a pro, I asked his friend Louis Peden how exactly skaters get paid and how many can make a career out of it.
He said, “You get paid more than you think. Take Neil. He’s one of the best guys out there. A sponsor pays for photos that magazines use. Like Independent. He gets shirts, trucks” — the hardware attaching the wheels to the board — “and a check. Free equipment, and he takes what he needs, maybe sells the rest of it. But when he gets his photo in a magazine, they’ll cut him a check for that photo. Like when he was riding for 151, they paid him, like, $1500 a month, plus photo incentives. That was, like, 200 or 300 bucks per photo. If you get a cover shot, it’s a grand. If you get a couple photo mags every month, which Neil always did, in every magazine — and there are probably an easy 10,000 skaters in the United States who could do photo-quality stuff in the magazines. They just don’t, because there aren’t that many of them being sponsored. And the guys taking the photos — guys from Thrasher — they follow Neil around, asking him where he’s going to be skating. He tells them, and they show up.”
Can you even see the company’s products in the picture or tell what kind of trucks they are?
“Yeah, totally! Because when you’re sponsored, you’re all stickered up like NASCAR. All over the bottom of your board you got Independent stickers or 151. The wheel company, the bearing company, the clothing company. The more prevalent the logo is in the ad, the more you can get. If you have a big sweater on, and the name is splashed across your chest and you’re doing a move nobody else can do, they’re going to kick you down more cash for that photo.”
Could Neil pull in a hundred grand a year with all those photos?
“Ah, no. No, no. There is money, but Tony Hawk, Bob Burnquist, they are vert skating, which is, like, what gets all the coverage. On the TV and in the media. That’s how Hawk pulls millions each year. I don’t want to call anyone out, like Hawk, who skates vert — some are good friends of mine — but there’s more of a pretty-boy aspect. You got all your pads on, you’re on this big, giant, scary-looking ramp that’s not scary — it’s all smooth and perfect.”
Couldn’t Neil have done that?
“He could have, sure. But that’s not where his soul is. Neil’s a punk. Hard-core music, he’s tatted up. He’s a skate punk. He’s got Vans skate shoes. He’s got them tattooed on his feet! He has the Thrasher logo on his chest. That is probably part of the reason he’s in prison right now. Their logo is a goat’s-head pentagram. When the cops showed up, he was sitting there with only a pair of cutoff Dickies on. If he would have had a shirt on, I bet all this would’ve went away.”
Getting back to the money aspect, I would think it isn’t so much selling out but just making a living if he did the tournaments that got TV exposure.
“He did some of them,” Peden said, “but he doesn’t skate vert anymore. That’s how he almost died, taking a spill off a vert ramp.”
Did that make him wary of it?
“I don’t know. I think to him it’s not worth it. Skating a pool is ten times harder and more critical and a thousand times more dangerous than skating a vert ramp. It wasn’t the danger aspect that kept him away. Skating vert just isn’t his style. Neil goes full speed, like faster than anyone else. He’s like a blur, he goes so fast. He doesn’t go back and forth. He’s a great street skater too. All his photos in mags are usually on the street.
“He’s epileptic,” Peden continued. “He got it from bashing his head real hard skateboarding. That’s how we became really good friends. When the OB skatepark first opened up, I had seen him there. I was always down there skating early. Drop off the kids at school and go skate. I was always the first one in there. And Neil started skating there every morning. You usually skate early, because no one’s awake yet to skate.”
How early did it open?
“It opened at 9:00 in the summer.”
I ask about Heddings’s epilepsy, and Peden said, “He smacked his head and started to fish out really bad and started to look like he might not make it. I’m an EMT, so I started supervising the situation to make sure everyone wasn’t crowding around. It was a grand mal seizure. I knew him well enough to know, skateboarders don’t ever want to have an ambulance ride. I bet you there are 5 percent of everyone that skateboards that has insurance. The rest are paying, and no sponsors offer insurance.”
Was Neil concerned about getting hurt?
“I don’t know how much you know about his skating ability, but he’s notorious for being the single most hard-core skater on cement. Any kind of cement. He’s not big on wood, not big on ramps. He is big on empty pools where you get six feet of vert. You can give Neil a 12-pack of beer, and he’ll skate full speed into a brick wall. And laugh about it. Because he’s not worried about whether he’ll get hurt or not. He knows in skateboarding you’re going to get hurt, and you just give that up after a while. He’s not wearing pads, and he’s going, ‘If it’s gonna hurt, it’s gonna hurt either way.’ ”
Are there any skaters who are afraid of cement?
“Sure, sure. I mean, cement will reach out and grab you. Bite you real hard. If you’re on a wooden skate ramp, they’re a little more slick. A little bit more forgiving. I mean, you see Tony Hawk and all those guys, they go huge off all those big skate ramps. But when they wipe out, they slide down like it’s nothing. You do that on cement, you’ll go to the hospital.”
I saw Tony Hawk on The Late Show with David Letterman in August, and he did those exact things. He’d flip in the air, high up, and he’d just slide down the wooden ramp smiling. Letterman was amazed he wasn’t hurt, yet Hawk just slid down on his knee pads. I ask how good Hawk really is.
“Well, he’s like the godfather of skating. Him and Caballero took skateboarding when it was just pieces of wood and wheels. Put noses on them, catching air, and doing everything. Them and the Dogtown Boys. Hawk isn’t afraid of cement. He’ll attack cement. I’ve seen him skate pools. There’s a whole underside of skating called pool skaters. They show up at a pool that’s unskatable for 90 percent of the world — 90 percent of the skating world. They’ll get on it and do what seems impossible. I mean, you have a vertical wall that is nine feet. So to go up and catch air, then stick yourself on the side of the wall and go down for a little transition, it’s stuff…I’m terrified to just go up and slap the coping, you know?”
Around the beginning of 2002, when Heddings was 27, he got together with friends to start a skateboard company. They brought in a financial backer, Billy Shire, who owned a gift shop on Hollywood Boulevard. Rollmodel was incorporated in March. Its skaters would represent the company at competitions and demos at skate shops. Their flair and personality would establish the name and sell the boards.
I looked at the Rollmodel Skateboards website and saw skateboard decks as well as stickers, patches, T-shirts, and caps. The decks had the faces of Heddings, Pigpen, and Chris Swanson.
Heddings’s friend Louis Peden told me that with Rollmodel, it wasn’t just Heddings putting his name on the product. Peden said, “He had an instrumental hand in designing the decks, and he had experience. He got with the graphic artist, got with the boardmakers. He’s a hard worker.”
John Ponts was one of the skaters for Rollmodel. He has long, curly blond hair and looks like a young Roger Daltrey.
“It was his baby,” Ponts said. “He put a couple of his friends in. It was me, Chris Swanson, Pigpen, and a few others. Neil went to jail, and it kinda fell apart.”
What are some of the things the company did? Did you do competitions?
“Yeah. Right when it started, we took a tour to set it off, up in Seattle. And it was a contest. Me, another kid, Johnny. We went to Oregon, skated all the parks. The whole crew. Usually when we go on tour, we hit all the parks. Throw our product to kids and promote the name. We did the contest, drove back. A month later, we went to Marseilles, France, for another one. That one was a pro contest. And Neil made it all the way to finals. I made it to semifinals. It was fun, even though I got hurt.”
How did Neil come up with the name Rollmodel?
“I wasn’t there, but Neil and Jeff and Ryan Tate were at the bar one night going through a bunch of names. Some had been taken, and it came about when it was a funny conversation when Neil said something. Jeff said, ‘God, what a role model you are.’ And they all looked at each other and said, ‘That’s it!’ ”
How long would it have taken the business to make money?
“For a company to get off the ground, had this not went down, you’d just have to do enough competitions, get the name out there, and that’s how it grows. It takes five to ten years for that to happen. A company that has millions of dollars behind it still takes that long because there are always new kids that are up and coming. A year into it, it is known you’re going to take a loss, no matter what. In the beginning, he promised it was going to get a huge profit, and they didn’t get a huge profit; we lost money. And he got scared. The financial backer, he’s a good guy, but this was his first venture, first skating venture. It definitely freaked him out. He’s not cutting us off totally. He says we’re still on the team, we still get boards. We are starting to look for new interests, though.”
San Jacinto is a town of 26,000, located 90 miles north of San Diego in Riverside County. I asked Peden why Heddings moved there. He said, “He had to go to Hollywood to get Rollmodel off the ground. One of the guys helping him out, an old friend of ours, moved to Colorado and had a house there, north of Hemet. And it wasn’t too far from San Diego. But being up there, that was also probably part of the problem. When I’d be out there, we were the only white people out there, let alone punks. We’d go skating, and they’d trip on us. It’s like a little farming community. Farm fields all around it, and it’s all Latino out there. Even the cops are, everybody is. And cops never liked us anyway. We look worse than anyone else because our clothes are torn, our shoes are trashed, and we’re out there making noise.”
Would you say, because so many of the skaters are into that punk lifestyle, there are a higher percent who are rebels, who get into fights more? More than, say, baseball players?
“For sure, for sure. But see, there’s, like, heavy divisions within the skateboard community. You got punk skaters and guys that aren’t like that, that just skate street. Or more straight edge and don’t drink. There’s an old hard-core style. Companies like 151, Randoms, and Thrasher — that is the Southern California punk skate mag. That’s why they have a big pentagram as a logo. It’s like a fuck-you in everyone’s face. But I’ve never seen Neil violent once in his entire life, when he’s had many opportunities. At punk shows or out-of-control parties or skate parties, if it gets out of control, he could’ve, and he didn’t. And that scene Neil and I grew up in — we’ve got friends who I’ve watched sit there and drink their own vomit. Just crazy, crazy stuff like that. He’s not that way. A lot of his friends were from the 151 Alcoholics Crew. They’re drunk all the time, skate all day, drink all night. Neil would definitely sit down and have beers, you know. But he was never one to get out of control like everyone else. That’s why you could count on him.”
In San Jacinto, Heddings and Rams lived on East Peach Street. Rams had two older children, a 4-year-old named Joey and Taylor, 11, who lived with her grandmother. Heddings was granted custody of Marty on August 23, 2002, and five days later, Heddings and Rams’s son Buddy was born.
In mid-November, Heddings left Marty in San Diego for a few days with his mother, Susie Moyer. Heddings and Rams were busy trying to build Rollmodel. Monday evening, November 18, they drove Marty back to San Jacinto.
By the end of the week, Joey was staying with his grandparents. On Friday night, at 8:00 p.m., according to the police report filed in support of the arrest warrant, Rams called her ex-husband, Ronald Rams. The report says she was “crying and upset.” Christine told her ex-husband he “would have to take Joey for a while, that the kids were driving her crazy,” the police report reads. “Christine told Ronald that they were having financial problems and the business was not doing that well.”
The next morning, November 23, police received a call about a child not breathing at 775 East Peach Street. Two officers arrived at the house at 9:00 a.m. Rams led them to a bedroom. Inside the room, the police report states, the officers found Heddings “sitting on a small bed holding a child in his arms.” Medical personnel determined that Marty was dead.
A sergeant was called, and a deputy coroner was summoned. She examined the body. She found “injuries on the child’s body and head,” the police report states. She ruled Marty’s death a homicide. The date of the alleged crime was later recorded as the night before, November 22.
At noon, the lead investigator arrived at the house. He questioned Heddings. According to the police report, Heddings told the detective that Susie Moyer, Marty’s mother, was a “transient” living in Ocean Beach and that he had left Marty in Moyer’s care from November 11 to November 18.
Heddings said he had picked Marty up “from a guy named ‘J.J.’ ” on November 18, and J.J. had “advised him that Marcus has been sick and throwing up for the last couple of days.” The report continues, “Neil said Marcus continued to vomit throughout the week.”
Heddings told the detective that the evening before, at 6:30 p.m., Rams had given Marty a bath “because he had thrown up on himself.” The report continues: “Neil said Marcus would say ‘ouch’ when anyone would touch him for no reason. Neil said during [Marty’s] bath with Christine, he had fallen and hit his head. Neil stated the fall was not that bad, because Marcus did not cry.” Heddings told the detective he had not observed the fall.
In the ensuing days, the detective talked to Susie Moyer, who claimed that Marty had had “a black eye and bruises on the top of his head” when he’d arrived in her care.
The following January, the detective talked with a woman who said she’d taken care of Marty on November 18. She said Heddings had phoned her to warn her that Marty looked “rough.” She reported that “Marcus had a black eye, discoloration to his face, a bruise to his head, and numerous scratches and bruises to his back,” the police report states.
The detective also talked to a woman with whom Heddings and Rams had lived for four months in early 2002. The woman told the detective that “Neil was a good father and really cared for Marcus,” the police report states. She said, the report continues, that there were times when Rams “would keep Marcus’ room very dark, so he would sleep most of the day while everyone else was awake. [She] said if Marcus would wake up, Christine would go into his room and yell at him, ‘shut the fuck up’ and close the door and walk away.” The woman told the detective “she observed a lot of emotional abuse from Christine talking to Marcus.”
The forensic pathologist, Mark Fajardo, estimated that the head trauma that caused Marty’s death had occurred within 12 hours of his death but that it could have occurred as much as 48 hours before. Fajardo also said that Marty’s injuries were not consistent with a child falling in a bathtub.
On March 3, 2003, Heddings and Rams were arrested. Bail was set at $250,000. It was later raised to $500,000.
Shortly after his arrest, Heddings wrote a letter to Big Brother Skateboarding Magazine.
Dear Big Bro, I’m writing this letter from Riverside County Jail. This is Neil Heddings and I think a lot of you know who I am. I am a pro skater. I used to ride for 151 Skateboards for, like, 7 years and now that I’m Done Fifty None, I own and ride for Rollmodel Hateboard Co. Along with me in my jail rot is my girlfriend Christine Rams, who I am going to marry soon — yeah, thanks. We’re really happy and are looking forward to spending our life together here in prison.
Actually, I’m trying to get both of us out right now. You see, my son Marty Heddings died in November 2002, for reasons I still can’t figure out. He already had head problems such as fused head plates and a swollen enlarged brain. He hit his head in the bathtub one day which didn’t seem to hurt him too bad. He didn’t cry or anything and so I put him to bed that night as usual, but he died in his sleep that night. Tomorrow (March 15) is his birthday. He would have been three years old. I want everyone in the world to know how proud I am of my son. How proud I am to have been his father. I thank the powers that be for the time I got to spend with him. In my eyes and in my heart he will never die. I love you, Marty. Happy birthday, son.
I’m not afraid to tell you that I started to cry. I want this letter to convey the sadness and wrongness of my situation, so I’ll probably cry a lot throughout this letter [there are tear drops all over the letter]. I will not ask for your forgiveness because it takes a man to cry, and I deserve to cry. You see, for some stupid reason the police think that me and my wife killed my son. Our charges are murder one and willful cruelty to a child resulting in death. Yesterday I went to child services court and had to sign away my youngest son, Marty’s little brother, to be adopted out. His name is “Budweiser” Jameson Heddings and he is only six months-old. They say we are unfit parents. Apparently it is against the law to love your children more than anything else in this world.
On a good note, Christine’s mom will be adopting Buddy, as well as our four-year-old son Joey, and our 11-year old daughter Taylor.
Sorry, I’m starting to cry again…OK. Well, anyway. I love you, Buddy. I love you, Joey. I love you, Taylor, and happy birthday, Marty. I love you. Your mother loves you guys, too. She’s locked up three floors above me. We write each other every day. Yesterday, after court, I got to talk to her for, like, three hours. They locked us up in holding cells directly across from each other and we could yell through the slot back and forth to each other. It might sound kind of rough, but actually it was one of the best things that’s happened to me in a while. I could see her and talk/yell to her. Then we were transported from court back to jail, and we got to sit next to each other in the van, with a big, thick metal wall in between us, but we got to touch each other’s hands. We got in trouble because once we were able to sneak a kiss in as we were getting out.
I love you, baby. See you next court date.
I want to let the world know one other thing. Me and my girlfriend didn’t hurt my boy, let alone murder him. We don’t belong in jail and we need to get out of here. Our bail is $500,000. Visit our website on the Big Brother site called “Marty Forever” for donation info.
But I didn’t write to ask you for money. I just feel the need to let you all know what’s going on. I know I have lots of fans and a lot of friends, and if you’re real, you’ll know that I speak only the truth. We are innocent. I think we’re getting close to getting me out. Then I’m getting my fiancee out. Then I’m working on money for lawyers. It’s gonna take a couple of years to even get to trial so I figure I can get us out before then. I just want to take my wife and kids to the skate park one more time.
When I went to the Robb Field Skateboard Park last August, I saw a memorial arrangement inside the office with a cross, some flowers around it, and a handwritten message. A worker, Damien Smrt, said, “Some kids made this, and we had it out there near where Neil skated and Marty was in his stroller. It’s in here now, though. This is a public park, and we didn’t want to just leave it out there.”
I asked if he knew Heddings, and he said, “I don’t skate, but I know him from his time here. And he was one of the nicest pros you could meet. When kids would ask him questions, he’d always answer them. And if you were talking to him, he didn’t brush you off like some of the other pros might do. Some pro skaters, I have to tell them to put their helmets on more than once. You didn’t have to with Neil.”
People told me they saw Susie Moyer, who often walks around the Ocean Beach area. I asked Smrt if he’d seen her, and he said, “Oh, yeah. She came here with his ashes. There was an event going on here, and we weren’t going to let her in. Somebody pulled me aside and told me she wanted to spread his ashes over there in the skatepark, so we let her.”
I asked about Heddings’s parenting skills, and Smrt said, “I don’t know. But he always had the stroller in here while he was skating nearby. He seemed great with the kids.”
All the skaters I talked to told me Neil was mellow and never lost his temper. One of his skaters, John Ponts, told me, “When we went on tours, something always went wrong. And he never lost his temper. When we went to France, we were supposed to have rent-a-cars, and we were supposed to have everything lined up. We had nothing. The guys who lined it up, they didn’t do anything that they said. When we got there, Neil had to take care of all this. And I know if I was in his position, I’d be pissed and I’d be screaming at somebody. Neil was calm the whole time. He knew it would work out. I never saw his facial expression change, like he was going to go and wring somebody’s neck or anything. He was keeping the whole crew calm. We were going, ‘Goddamn it!’ He was keeping everyone mellow. He was one of the most gentle people I’ve ever known or seen with a child. Sometimes we’d go on ten-hour drives with him and his kids. His kids were always first on the trip. If the kids started crying, he’d pull over, attend to Buddy, his newborn, and Marty. I’ve never seen him raise so much as an eyebrow at his child.”
Several people I talked to said Marty’s head was large, but when I asked the deputy district attorney about “fused head plates” or a birth defect, he told me that the autopsy did not reveal any abnormal condition.
One of the skaters told me the deputy DA is lying about Heddings and Rams plotting to get away and that they had a recording. I asked Hansen about this, and he said, “When we arrested them and placed them together, she said, ‘I told you we should have run when we had the money, the chance, and the time.’ He responded, ‘I know. I’m sorry.’ We have that on tape.”
I read in the Riverside Press Enterprise (May 8, 2003) that the detective on the case testified at the preliminary hearing that he had taped the conversation.
Last August, I asked Steve Guido of Skateboard Heaven why Heddings’s sponsors, like Vans, didn’t help.
“Vans was sold to a foreign conglomerate,” Guido said. “The old owner, Steve Van — I know if he owned it, he’d probably bankroll the whole thing. The whole murder and charge, a lot of companies want to stay away. As soon as more word gets out, some of these big pros, like Burnquist and Hawk and Muska, they’ll come up with some money.”
I asked if Tony Hawk has commented on this case, and Guido said, “I heard through the grapevine that he said he’d help out.”
I contacted Hawk’s manager, and she said she’d get back to me. A few days later, I got an e-mail saying that Tony Hawk didn’t know Heddings and didn’t have any comment. That’s disappointing, considering one skater told me, “Ask Hawk how good Neil is, he’ll tell you.” I assumed Hawk could have at least talked about Heddings’s skating skills, even if he didn’t want to comment on the case for PR reasons.
At the X Games in Los Angeles last summer, five of the ten vert finalists were from San Diego County. Andy Macdonald was one of them. He finished second, winning $14,000. A skater had told me that Macdonald was good but said, “He’s more of a pretty boy. He doesn’t go full-throttle like Neil did.”
When Macdonald was at the Kroc center skatepark in East San Diego skating and signing his new book, I asked him about Heddings.
He said, “Yeah, I knew him. He was a good skater.”
I asked if he knew about the case, and he said, “I know all about it. Well, I don’t know everything about it, but I’m familiar with it.”
I asked if I could talk to him in depth at a later time, and Macdonald gave me his card. When I called his manager, Mariana Singer, she told me to e-mail the questions to him. I did that and got this response: “Andy Macdonald is going to have to decline comment in reference to Neil Heddings. If you have a skateboard-specific story in the future, please feel free to contact me with your query.”
Although some of the big-name skaters don’t want to comment on this case, the magazines haven’t had a problem showing their support. Transworld Skateboarding had a benefit at the Pala Pool, east of Oceanside, on April 12, 2003. Over 200 people showed up, and lots of products were donated. A website had raised over $500, which they stated “was enough for a few hours with a good lawyer.”
Heddings has a court-appointed attorney and Rams has a public defender, but they do need money for bail.
In the May 2004 edition of Thrasher magazine, I saw a letter to the editor from an Arby Turlinson of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, who suggested a plan to raise bail for Heddings and “Pinky,” Rams’s nickname.
And last August, in shops like Skateboard Heaven, there were containers on the counter where you could donate money to Heddings’s defense fund, although having the pentagram logo on the jar, in my opinion, wasn’t the best move. And a hardware company called Randoms was donating a portion of its sales to Heddings.
In August, Heddings’s friend Louis Peden told me he’d talked to Heddings three days earlier. “I talk to him at least once a week,” he said.
How is he?
“Okay, you know. Your mind will deal with any situation you’re put in. That’s why prisoners don’t kill themselves. He’s accepted it. They’re trying to drop the hammer on him. I’ve been to every day that he’s stepped foot in the court. I’ve talked to the DA. People tell me he can really get fucked, and he hasn’t even done anything wrong.”
Tell me about some interaction you saw with him and his son. People tell me he brought Marty to the skatepark. But if he’s skating, some could argue that’s not the best parenting.
“It’s not like playing a game of soccer, when you are away from your kid. When we are skating, we are always coming around Marty. It only takes 30 seconds to do your skate run. And you’re chilling for five minutes. Neil and Marty were inseparable. Except when his ex–old lady would get her hands on him. She has a hard-core problem with meth.”
I asked John Ponts if Moyer seemed bothered by her child’s death.
“Well, she was walking around OB with an empty baby cart, three months after it happened, going, ‘Look at my child, look at my child.’ Yeah, she’s bothered by it, but she’s so doped up, how can you tell? She comes over here and starts preaching about God and stuff and this and that. I just can’t believe it.”
His ex has a rap sheet that includes fighting in public, possession of illegal drugs, and vandalism. Moyer was charged with vandalism and arson on Valentine’s Day, 1998, after she and a girlfriend set fire to a new Jeep Grand Cherokee. She’s also been charged several times with being under the influence of methamphetamine and amphetamines, including an arrest on November 26, 2002, four days after Marty died and the same day she talked to police about his death. That was also the day before her 24th birthday. Her sentences have ranged from probation to a fine to volunteer work.
A lady who wanted to remain anonymous said that after Marty died, she’d gone up to see Heddings in San Jacinto. “I had never seen him so sad. He couldn’t even speak, he wouldn’t answer his cell phone. He was in a deep depression about that. He called me from prison and said, ‘Isn’t it weird? They’re trying to put me down for two life sentences — that’s going to be my charge. It feels weird. It is like a nightmare that won’t end. Your son dies, and then you’re blamed for it.’ He gave his son so much attention. He was amazing with kids. You look at the tattoos and his lifestyle and the music he listens to. You can say it’s Satan music. Like the Marilyn Manson thing. Because he dresses weird, people have these ideas of what you’re like.”
A lot of the skaters I talked to thought that the tattoos that cover Heddings’s body made the police jump to conclusions about the case. With so many people having tattoos today, I don’t think that will be a problem. But what could be a problem is the one strike that’s on his record.
On February 28, 1997, Heddings assaulted someone in El Cajon. He was convicted of assault by force likely to cause serious bodily injury — a felony. He was sentenced to five years’ probation.
I talked to deputy district attorney Hansen about that.
Hansen said, “He hit a guy on the head with a skateboard. Because he was convicted of that crime, where he beat somebody up, that’s a strike on his record, and we intend to bring it up.”
I did get a letter from Heddings. I’d sent him a letter, asking if I could interview him. He called me collect twice, but I wasn’t home either time. I received this letter from him in August, a few days before I made the trek up to Riverside to talk to him.
Whats up man? This is Neil Heddings, writing you back finally, I had hesitated at first due to my lawyers advice, he’s weary of a negative response due to words that tend to be misconstrued in such interviews as the one youve proposed, but I’ve talked to some friends of mine, as well as my mother, all people you have talked to, and I’ve always enjoyed the fairness that the Reader has seemed to convey to its audience. I lived in San Diego for a long time, and have read many a “Reader” that, like I’ve already stated, I have enjoyed them very much. So I figured whats the harm, I can at least give you the dignity of a response. Im not allowed to talk about the case in particular, however this much I do feel inclined to say; I love my son Marty (Marcus’ nickname) more than anything else in this world, have since the day he was born, will till the day that I die. My sons death has broughten upon me, more pain than I had ever thought imaginable, and is something that I struggle to explain in words, other than just so completely horrible. Now whats going on is just silly, frustrating, insulting, and only ads to my pain. For some reason, I am incarcerated, under some incredibly vile charges, charges that neither a man like me, nor a woman like my Christine, would ever be capable of committing. We both love my son Marty, the son we had together (Buddy), and her two children Joey 4, + Taylor 11. Weve committed no crimes, nor done any wrong to anyone, and I have faith, that our legal system, will bring us both the Justice, and moral vindication we deserve, wich I see like this, we are both good people, and are both great parents, excuse me if I sound conceded, but I have faith in us. I ask you for your prayers, and your faith in us as well.
P.S. Please excuse my handwriting, no typewriters allowed in here
To visit Heddings, I had to call the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside the day before I was to arrive. I was given the option of visiting on Monday, Tuesday, or Saturday. I asked the guy on the phone if I had to arrange the visit with Heddings first. He said, “It doesn’t work that way. You just tell us what day and what time. We tell you if he’s available or has another visitor that day. If he doesn’t, you show up 40 minutes early to check in and then visit him.” I asked, “What if he doesn’t want to talk to me?” The guy laughed and said, “Well, then he won’t talk to you, and you wasted a trip. But we don’t go ask him first. We just tell him he has a visitor, and it’s his option.”
I drove up on a Saturday afternoon. When I got to the building I was looking for, I was surprised by the other visitors. Some were gangsters and thugs, but most were regular families. Some dressed casually, some dressed up. Some eager kids ran around, talking about “seeing Daddy soon.” A few pregnant women had looks on their faces as though they wished they’d made a better choice in men.
When I waited in line to check in, a woman in her 30s was with a woman in her 60s. The older one was complaining about stamps and letters she sent to her son not getting there. The marshal looked up her file and said something about his not being able to receive those things. She wrote a check and said, “This is a lot of money. When you give it to my son, tell him he better not buy any bad things with it.” They both laughed. She then said, “They could really have a big shindig in there with this kind of money,” and they laughed again. Weird that they could find humor in a family member being incarcerated. I heard an old man who must have been in his 70s ask, “What’s the max charge for assault with a deadly weapon?”
And the signs on the walls were as crazy as the questions people were asking. The one that said, “Your visit may be audio or video recorded” made sense. The one that said, “Visitors may be dressed casual, but attire which is revealing, offensive, or distracting to others is not allowed. Shirts and shoes required” — I guess that made sense too. But one sign read, “Entry beyond this, we may search your person, property, or possessions. It is unlawful to bring alcohol, drugs, weapons, explosives, or tear gas weapons into this facility.” To me, this was stating the obvious. I had asked Heddings’s mom if there was a favorite food he had or a skate magazine I could bring him. She laughed and said, “You can’t bring anything in there! They won’t even let you bring in your wallet or a purse. Only your car keys.”
Another sign I couldn’t figure out said, “Attention — selling, furnishing, possessing, or bringing any of the following into this facility is a FELONY punishable by imprisonment in the State Prison for two, three, or four years. Explosives, firearms, deadly weapons, tear gas, tear gas weapons, controlled substance, drug paraphernalia, alcoholic beverages, drugs in any manner, shape or form. Penal code sections: 4573, 4573.5, 4573.6, 4573.8, 4574.” I wonder, the way Jerry Seinfeld might, why they needed to write “tear gas” and “tear gas weapons,” as if there’s a difference. Or why they needed to write the penal code numbers.
But what might take the cake as the most unusual sign in the place was a big, colorful poster for job opportunities in the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. It said, “Your future starts here.” Seemed like a weird place to look for applicants.
I was told Heddings was on the third floor. When the elevator opened on the second floor, a well-dressed Latino family got off and a five-year-old girl ran to the glass yelling, “Hi, Daddy!” He waved from behind the glass, holding the telephone you speak into.
When the elevator opened on the third floor, I got out. There was nobody around. I waited about five minutes. I heard a loud noise, and a door opened. Four black guys in orange jumpsuits came in and sat down. I’d never met Heddings, but I had seen pictures. And he was a short white guy. A few minutes later, the elevators opened, and people got out to visit these guys. I went back down, and the lady said, “Oh, we messed up. We did that earlier today too. We’ll get Neil for you. You can go back up.”
When he walked in, I was surprised at how short he was. But maybe his five-foot-five frame looks shorter next to tall black guys. He put his fist to the glass as a greeting, and I put mine. I introduced myself, and he said, “Oh, I’m glad you were able to make it up here. You know I can’t talk about the case. I mean, my lawyer will probably be pissed I’m even talking to you now.”
I first brought up Burnside, the skatepark in Portland. He seemed really modest. He said, “I can’t take too much credit for that. I was one of many there working on it. It was a big group effort. Early on, it was one of the first skateparks. Then others in other cities started being built. The city didn’t give us permission, but they were kind of glad we did it. They said, ‘We won’t bother you, you don’t bother us.’ There was some weird law about community property, and since it was an area with a lot of bums and the city wanted to do something anyway, they were happy it got done.”
I asked Heddings how old he was when he started skating. He said, “Since I was 9. I’m 29 now.”
I asked if being incarcerated would take its toll on his skating ability.
“Oh, yeah. I used to have big legs. I can feel them getting weaker. And we can’t work out here. We have a little exercise, and I do push-ups in my cell. I’ve been here six months already. When I used to have injuries, that would keep me out for three months, and it would take a month just to come back from that, to get to where you once were.”
I asked him to tell me about his epileptic seizures.
“I’ve gotten a number of concussions skateboarding, and that’s what they think causes my epileptic seizures. I haven’t gotten one in over a year, and I stopped taking my medication for them. I first started getting them when I was 19. At that time, I wasn’t in great shape and wasn’t really taking care of my body. I may have just outgrown them, and being in better shape, I don’t know. I didn’t like taking the medication, though. It made me weaker and hampered my skating.”
I asked about his mom supporting his career choice.
Heddings laughed and said, “The first time she realized I could make a career out of this wasn’t the picture in Thrasher or any of those magazines. It was when I got boxes of shoes sent to my house for free. She seemed excited about that.”
I mentioned that his mom told me he was quite enthusiastic about his company, Rollmodel. I asked if Rollmodel was done with.
“It isn’t completely over. I’m 29, and for most skaters, that’s when they are pretty much wrapping it up. I’ve taken care of my body; I’m in good shape. I think I could skate into my mid-30s. And when I get out of skating, I want to get more into the business aspect of it. But Rollmodel still has 500 boards of mine in a warehouse. Hopefully, I’m out soon, and we can get things going again.”
Heddings mentioned getting letters of support from around the world. He said, “I got a letter the other day from a kid in Tasmania. Once we did this skating competition in Australia, and we flew to Tasmania island. I rode this really wild course there. The kid sent me a letter saying, ‘I still remember when you skated that. It was awesome. The most incredible thing I ever saw.’ ”
Heddings talked about some of the countries he had visited for competitions. It occurred to me that being locked up might not be as bad for somebody who worked a nine-to-five job and then just went home and sat in front of the TV as for somebody like Heddings who went to other countries and got paid for it. I asked Heddings his take on that, and he said, “Well, nobody wants to get locked up. Especially for something they didn’t do. My cell is really small.” The area he pointed out as the size of his cell was about 25 by 25 feet. He continued, “And it’s not the countries I miss as much. It’s my family, Christine, and, of course, skating.”
I asked him how often he saw his fiancée.
“We write to each other every day, but I can’t see her unless we have court appearances. And you know what? This speedy trial stuff is bullshit! But my attorney said a speedy trial wouldn’t necessarily be in my best interest anyway. We have investigators looking into stuff.”
A little boy ran over to the area where I was talking to Heddings. All the visitors sat side by side, with small partitions between them. I eavesdropped on what the attractive lady next to me was telling her man. I heard her say, “Oh, yeah, Bob is getting the rust off the car. It should be done next week.” I looked around and noticed there wasn’t an armed guard in there. There were only a few cameras up in the corners. And the entire room was only 60 by 30 feet. I had heard someone in the elevator say that the guards could listen to your conversations. I thought that if they did, they’d learn a little about skateboarding.
I asked Heddings how the guards were treating him. He laughed and said, “Early on, one of them saw the tattoos and asked how much time I spent upstate. I told him I’ve never been in prison. I showed him my tattoos. You don’t get work like this done in prison. You have to go to nicer shops.”
I looked at the tattoos. They were intimidating since they were all over his body, including on his neck. He had a woman on his arm, a beer logo. When showing me that, he said, “I was going to have a beer logo with red, but my skin puffed up for, like, nine months. We found out I was allergic to colored ink. The ones I did with yellow and other colors all turned out weird.” I ask what other allergies he had, and he said, “Penicillin.”
I asked him if he felt the jurors would be biased when they saw the tattoos. He said, “Most of them can be covered by a suit. But not this one on my neck.” He showed me one on his left arm with the Burnside logo. Another had a graveyard, with an upside-down cross. He mentioned something about having his ex’s name and told me, “I better not even start talking about her unless it’s off the record.”
He also had his name tattooed on his fingers. The only other person I’ve ever seen with that was Ozzy Osbourne. I asked if the tattoos worked in his favor in prison, because others might think he was a badass and stay away from him. He laughed and said, “It’s not like in the movies. You have to screw up really bad in here to have problems with anybody.”
With Heddings’s short-cropped haircut and tattoos, some might think he was a skinhead. I asked if prisoners of other races gave him problems or if there were divisions like that in there. He said, “No, no, everyone is cool. This guy here…” He reached over and grabbed a tall, thin, black guy sitting next to him talking to a visitor. He smiled at me and waved. “That guy is my cellmate. He’s cool.”
I asked Heddings about the possibility that he would get out and his fiancée wouldn’t. He said, “Anything could happen. I hate thinking about that. The bail for me is $500,000, and it’s the same for her too.”
I asked about the one strike that’s on his record for assaulting somebody. Heddings said, “Who hasn’t gotten into a fight when they were young and stupid? These guys did something to a girl I was dating. I went to talk to them and see what was going on. A fight escalated. They knew my name because I was a skater, and the cops came and picked me up. What sucks is, that’s one strike against me on my record. That is something they will bring up in court. I know I was wrong, and I didn’t control myself like I should have.”
I asked Heddings why he came to San Diego and why so many other skaters have. One magazine called San Diego the skate capital of the world. He told me, “I came because of LA, San Francisco, the entire West Coast for skaters. The weather is great, and it’s where all the companies are and the competitions. Back East, well, it’s not like there aren’t other places. Now everything is so big. Even where I’m from, it rained a lot, but we still had competitions going on.”
I asked Heddings about his fame in the skateboard world, and he said, “One time was really cool. I went to Ohio, and I have some stepbrothers there. I was meeting them there at this competition. I waved to them, and they came over. I had just competed, and there were a hundred kids there waiting for my autograph. I was signing autographs in front of them, which was cool.”
After we talked skating for a while, we talked about his parenting skills.
“In OB, people called me the skateboard dad because I would skate around with my son in a stroller. If I saw a spot I wanted to skate, I’d stop with the stroller there and skate that area. When I’d be at the park skating, people would say, ‘Aren’t you that dad skating around OB with your baby?’ ”
Heddings seemed to be in really good spirits when we talked, laughing and smiling. The one time he got sad was when he talked about his fiancée’s other two kids. He said, “The younger one asked when I was going to pick him up in the van. I used to pick up the kids in the van, and we’d go out different places. I thought of them and how we won’t be doing that anymore.” He put his head down, then continued, “He asked me to bring Marty, and I told him he was an angel now.” Heddings told me he got teary-eyed when he tried to explain that to Joey.
I asked how he met Christine, and he said, “Through mutual friends in OB. We were friends first. Our kids were the same age and did stuff together, but we weren’t dating. When my dad came out to visit, before he left, he said, ‘How come you guys aren’t dating? You know you’re both in love.’ He died a week later, and we did start dating. The relationship was taken to a different level. And we had a child together, Buddy. We are being told now we should adopt him out, which we are probably going to do because that’s what people tell us is best. It would be to her mom, not a foster family.”
We talked about other skaters, and I asked about Tony Hawk. He said, “I met him a few times. The first time was when he came out to Burnside and skated. I skated with him in a few competitions. We know each other, but we are completely different skaters. He’s not like a person I would hang out with. Not somebody that I’d go get a beer with.”
I asked how good Hawk was, and he said, “He has a big bag of tricks and could do all kinds of things on a skateboard. I don’t have that many tricks, but I skate fast and real aggressive.”
I told him skateboarding seems like the one sport where people don’t knock each other’s skills. I thought one of these skaters would say Hawk was overrated, and nobody has.
“I’ll admit, Hawk and Burnquist are amazing. Bob Burnquist and those guys are way better than me, but we also have different styles. It’s more of a community with us. You may compete against these guys, but you are still friends afterward.”
Neil Heddings and Christine Rams’s joint trial is currently scheduled for May 24.