Derek "Wheels" Wheeler was a student who attended Degrassi Junior High from September 1986 to June 1989 and Degrassi High from September 1989 to June 1991. He was a nice boy at one time who lived a happy life being raised by his adoptive parents. He tried his best in school and was very interested in playing music. He was best friends with Joey Jeremiah and Archie Simpson. After meeting his biological father and the death of his adoptive parents, his life gradually turned for the worse, and Wheels eventually got himself sent to jail. He was portrayed by the late Neil Hope.
Starts as: Grade 8Wheels arrives as a grade 8 student at Degrassi Junior High School where he is best friends with Joey Jeremiah and, on occasion, Archie "Snake" Simpson. The three form a band, they constantly changed the name but eventually it was called "The Zit Remedy", and later shortened to "The Zits". Over the years, they perform at the junior high graduation dance ("Pass Tense", DJH ep. 213), shoot a music video ("Everybody wants Something", DH ep. 105), and perform in a fellow student's feminist horror movie ("It Creeps!!", DH ep. 114), but only have one song, Everybody Wants Something.
School president Stephanie Kaye initiates a few ill-fated dates with him. Their trip to the school dance is cut short when she gets drunk on Lucy Fernandez' parents' liquor. ("The Big Dance", DJH ep. 102) After she asks him out again, her mother recognizes him at the front door as having bought condoms at the drug store where she is a pharmacist. ("The Best Laid Plans", DJH ep. 107). When Wheels loses interest in her, Stephanie attempts to make him jealous by openly flirting with Joey. ("Revolution!", DJH ep. 113). Heather Farrell (portrayed by Maureen Deiseach) later takes a romantic interest in him ("Just Friends", DH ep. 107).He meets his natural father, Mike Nelson (portrayed by Dave James) who is discovered to also be a musician of little success. ("Parents' Night", DJH ep. 112). In the same episode, he helps pregnant classmate "Spike" Nelson (portrayed by Amanda Stepto), choose whether to keep her unborn child (the future Emma Nelson), or put her up for adoption. Wheels explains that he is grateful to both his natural parents for having given him a chance at a better life, and to his adoptive parents (see below - portrayed by Timm Zemanek and Nancy Sinclair) for providing that better life to him.
He and Joey sleep over at Snake's home the first time Snake's parents leave him on his own for the weekend. When they wake, Wheels realizes that he is going to be late for an eye doctor appointment, so Joey drives them both in Snake's parents' car, despite having neither a license nor any driving skill. Wheels' adoptive parents forbid him to associate with Joey as a result. ("Trust Me" DJH ep. 211). The three eventually continue with their band and try to get into a strip joint together ("Little White Lies", DH ep 108)
That better life is permanently altered when Wheels' adoptive parents are killed in a drunk driving collision ("Can't Live With 'Em Part 1", DJH ep. 301) and he moves in with his adoptive maternal grandparents (see below - portrayed by Rod Rekofski and Dorothy Phillips). He takes to using his parents' death as an excuse for his own failings, and is hostile to his grandparents' attempts to discipline him. His refusal to study nearly causes him to repeat a grade ("Bye-Bye, Junior High", DJH 316). After receiving a postcard from Mike Nelson, Wheels hitchhikes to see him in Port Hope; along the way, he is nearly molested by a traveling salesman who gives him a ride. ("Taking Off", DJH eps. 311-312). Mike is surprised to see him and dashes Wheels' dream of living with him; after introducing Wheels to his fiancé, Maggie, Mike sends Wheels back to the boy's adoptive grandparents.
Eventually, Wheels' grandparents evict him when they are tired of his lies, disobedience and theft. ("A Tangled Web", DH ep. 204). Joey's parents (portrayed by George King and Gretchen Helbig) allow him to stay at the Jeremiah house until he steals from Joey's mom; the theft and Wheels' attempt to shift the blame drive a wedge between Wheels and Joey ("Home Sweet Home", DH ep. 208). Snake's parents (portrayed by Ingvar Brogen and Maggie Thomas) refuse to let Wheels in the Simpson house. Snake, though fed up with Wheels' attitude, takes pity on him and lets him sleep the night on the porch. (Id). When Snake is unable to attend the school talent show, Wheels is able to reconcile with Joey by filling in for their friend in a comedic duet (" Showtime Part 2", DH ep. 211).
Wheels cites his parents' death as the reason he turns down an offer to drink beer with Snake and Joey. ("Pa-arty!", DJH ep. 315). Nevertheless, he eventually becomes both a beer drinker and drunk driver. (School's Out!). At a summer party, he drives Lucy Fernandez (portrayed by Anais Granofsky) under the influence of alcohol to get more chips, and collides with another car. In doing so, he temporarily blinds and partially cripples Lucy, and kills a young child in the other car. (Id.) Although Wheels had long worn out Joey's and Snake's sympathy after incessantly lying, stealing and refusing to take responsibility for anything, Joey nevertheless visits him in pre-trial confinement. Wheels inability to accept culpability angers and disgusts Snake who refuses to forgive him for twelve years. (Id.; "Should I Stay or Should I Go?", DNG ep. 307). He was charged with "criminal negligence causing death, criminal negligence causing injury times two, and drunk driving". Taking responsibility for once, he pleaded guilty to all charges. (School's Out).
Out of jail, he appears in the combination reunion movie & series premier of Degrassi: The Next Generation, "Mother & Child Reunion". His appearance, however, is only shown on the Canadian version on CTV and not on the American version shown on The N. In the American version, Snake is nevertheless shown harboring disgust with Wheels.
Two years later, in "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" (ep. 307), Joey finally manages to reunite the old friends when taking Snake out bowling to get Snakes mind off of his leukemia and chemotherapy. Snake initially wants nothing to do with Wheels, but they bond over both having wanted to die (Wheels after killing the child, and Snake while dealing with his leukemia and its treatment). The three former band-mates, now balder and hopefully wiser, loudly sing Everybody Wants Something on the ride home in Joey's convertible.
Derek is specified as age 14 during the early winter of his Grade 8 year (Season 2 - Great Expectations), set early in 1989, and at the beginning of his Grade 9 year (Season 3 - Can't Live With 'Em, Part 2), set in September 1989, suggesting he was born either late in 1974 or, more likely for school enrollment norms, in early 1975.
- Wheels' birth father is Mike Nelson, played by Dave James.
- Wheels' adoptive parents John and Helen, deceased as of September 1988, were played by Nancy Sinclair and Timm Zemanek.
- Wheels' maternal grandparents, who cared for him for a time after his parents were killed, were played by Dorothy Phillips and Rod Rekofski.
- Wheels shares slight similarities with future Degrassi character Sean Cameron. Both characters had difficult home lives and living situations, albeit for much different reasons, and it sometimes affected their relationships with other and their performance in school. Both Wheels and Sean had interests in cars, and knew how to work with them. Sean worked at an auto garage and had dreams of opening his own mod shop, and Wheels bought a junker and was able to fix it up into drivable, certifiable shape.
- Wheels' nickname becomes cruelly ironic for several reasons:
- Wheels' adoptive parents die in a car accident.
- Wheels was almost molested while hitchhiking.
- Wheels was incarcerated after driving drunk.
- Wheels is one of 6 characters in Degrassi History to be adopted. The other 5 are Kendra, Liberty and J.T.'s baby, Derek Haig, Holly J. and Tyson.
- He is one of many present and former Degrassi students who don't go by their full name. The others being:
- Zig (Zigmund)
- Drew (Andrew),
- Becky (Rebecca),
- Cam (Campbell)
- Eli (Elijah).
- Fitz (Mark)
- K.C. (Kirk Cameron)
- Sav (Savtaj)
- Dave (David)
- Dallas (Michael)
- Jake (Jacob)
- Mo (Mohammed)
- Ellie (Eleanor)
- Tiny (Deon)
- Frankie (Francesca)
- J.T. (James Tiberius)
- Manny (Manuella)
- Holly J. (Holly Jeanette)
- Jimmy (James)
- Jay (Jason)
- Alex (Alexandra)
- Toby (Tobias)
- Wheels (Derek)
- Joey (Joseph)
- Alli Bhandari (Allia)
- Spinner (Gavin)
- Danny (Daniel)
- Jack (Jacqueline)
- Blue (Bradley)
- Rick (Richard)
- Luke (Lucas)
- B.L.T. (Bryant Lester Thomas)
- Johnny (Jonathan)
- Spike (Christine)
- Snake (Archie)
- L.D. (Lorraine Delacorte)
- Bronco (Basil)
- Wheels is one of two adopted characters who met one of their biological parents. He met his biological Father, and Holly J. is the other one who met her biological mother.
- Wheels was the first character to almost get molested in a car (he almost got molested by a random man when hitchhiking) the second was Connor DeLaurier who almost got molested by his Internet stalker, LoveQueen16.
- Wheels is the first main character in Degrassi History to be sent to jail. The others were Sean and Luke.
- Wheels was arrested for criminal negligence causing injury, criminal negiglence causing death, and drunk drive.
- Sean was arrested for illegally street racing and leaving the scene of an accident.
- Luke was arrested for sexual assault.
- Wheels was mentioned by Caitlin in Goin' Down the Road (2), She says, "Who calls themselves Snake, or Wheels?" when Joey was being critical of a vagrant who beat up and robbed Craig's name.
- Wheels was the first character to drink and drive and to kill a young child while drunk driving.
- Wheels is the first character to run away from home. The other three were Craig Manning, Fiona Coyne and Alli Bhandari.
- He almost lost his virginity to Stephanie.
- He lost his virginity to a girl named Karen.
- Wheels was the first character to be kicked out of his home and then went to move into a friend's house. He was kicked out of his home by his Grandma and went to move with Joey Jeremiah. The second one was Manny. She was kicked out of her house by her father and moved in with Emma. The third was Zig who was kicked out of his home by his parents and went to move in with Maya.
- Wheels, along with fifteen other characters, was sexually assaulted:
- He was almost molested in a car by a random stranger while he was hitchhiking.
- Lucy and Susie were sexually harassed by Mr. Colby at Degrassi Junior High School.
- Liz was molested by her mother's ex-boyfriend as a young girl.
- Emma was held captive in a hotel room by a pedophile and was almost raped.
- Paige was raped by Dean at a party.
- Darcy was raped by a serial rapist who spiked teenage girls' drinks at a party.
- Jane was molested by her father, Carlos Valieri.
- K.C. was almost forced to have sex with a hooker hired by Coach Carson against his will as well as had him watching porn.
- Connor was almost molested in a car by his internet stalker.
- Bianca was forced into sex with Vince on numerous occasions and was almost raped by her ex-boyfriend Anson.
- Clare was sexually harassed by her former boss, Asher.
- Maya was sexually harassed following being cyber bullied and slut shamed online.
- Zoë was raped by Luke and Neil at a party.
- Tristan was statutorily raped by Grant Yates.
- Winston was groped by Grant Yates.
- In September 1988, his adoptive parents John and Helen Wheeler were killed by a drunk driver.
- He lost his virginity prior to June 1992.
- He is one of several students who were born outside of Toronto
- He was most likely born near Port Hope, ON
- Becky and Luke Baker are from somewhere in Florida
- Lucy Fernandez is from New York, NY
- Yick Yu is from Vietnam
- Mike Dallas is from Guelph, ON
- Jenna Middleton was born in Calgary, AB
- Campbell Saunders is from Kapuskasing, ON
- Fiona and Declan Coyne were born in Tokyo, Japan to American expatriates
- Becky and Luke Baker are from somewhere in Florida
- Patrick is from Dublin, Ireland
- Hazel Aden was born in Mogadishu, Somalia
- Manny Santos was born in Manila, the Philippines
- Rasha Zuabi and Saad Al'Maliki are from Syria
- While Amy Holmes thought that Wheels was a 7 in Natural Attraction, Allison Hunter said that he was "a 4, maybe."
- In Taking Off (1), it was revealed that Wheels lived at 179 De Grassi St..
- He was his maternal grandparents' only grandchild.
Alex • Alexa • Archie • Arthur • B.L.T. • Bartholomew • Caitlin • Christine • Raditch • Wheels • Erica • Heather • Joey • Karen • Kathleen • L.D. • Liz • Lucy • Maya • Melanie • Michelle • Rick • Scooter • Shane • Simon • Stephanie • Susie • Voula • Yick
Alex • Alexa • Archie • Arthur • B.L.T. • Bartholomew • Bronco • Caitlin • Christine • Raditch • Wheels • Diana • Dwayne • Erica • Heather • Joey • Karen • Kathleen • L.D. • Liz • Lucy • Maya • Melanie • Michelle • Scooter • Simon • Tessa • Yick