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. Although not the brightest student, he tried his best in school despite the fact that his mid term report card says he did terrible when he was in grade 11. 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.

Character History


Starts as: Grade 8

Wheels arrived as a grade 8 student at Degrassi Junior High School where he was best friends with Joey Jeremiah and Archie "Snake" Simpson. The three formed a band known as "The Zit Remedy", and later shortened the name 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) However, they only have one song: Everybody Wants Something.

When Wheels was hitchhiking, he almost got molested

School president Stephanie Kaye initiated a few ill-fated dates with Wheels. Their trip to the school dance was cut short when Stephanie got drunk on Lucy Fernandez' parents' liquor. ("The Big Dance", DJH ep. 102) After she asks him out again, Stephanie's mother recognized him at the front door as having bought condoms at the drug store where she was 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  later took a romantic interest in him ("Just Friends", DH ep. 107).

He met his biological father, Mike Nelson (portrayed by Dave James) who was discovered to also be a musician. ("Parents' Night", DJH ep. 112). In the same episode, Wheels helped pregnant classmate "Spike" Nelson  choose whether to keep her unborn child (the future Emma Nelson), or put her up for adoption. Wheels explained that he was grateful to both his biological parents for having given him a chance at a better life, and to his adoptive parents ( portrayed
Wheels 220x130
by Timm Zemanek and Nancy Sinclair) for providing him with that better life.

Wheels and Joey sleep over at Snake's home the first time Snake's when parents leave him on his own for the weekend. When they woke up, Wheels realized that he was going to be late for an eye doctor appointment, so Joey drove  them both in Snake's parents' car, despite having neither a license nor any driving skill. Wheels' adoptive parents forbade 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)

Wheels' life was permanently altered when his adoptive parents were killed in a drunk driving collision ("Can't Live With 'Em Part 1", DJH ep. 301) and he moved in with his adoptive maternal grandparents ( portrayed by Rod Rekofski and Dorothy Phillips). At first, Wheels used his parents' death as an excuse for his own failings, and was hostile to his grandparents' attempts to discipline him. His refusal to study nearly caused him to repeat a grade ("Bye-Bye, Junior High", DJH 316). After receiving a postcard from his biological father, Mike, Wheels hitchhiked to see him in Port Hope; along the way, he was  nearly molested by a traveling salesman who  gave him a ride. ("Taking Off", DJH eps. 311-312). Mike was not expecting him to show up and his reaction was clearly disappointing to Wheels. After meeting Mike's pregnant fiance, Maggie, Wheels was left feeling betrayed due to Mike's decision to keep this baby when he didn't keep Wheels. Wheels' grandmother eventually found out where he was, and shows up in Port Hope to take him back home. 

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) allowed him to stay at the Jeremiah house until he stole from Joey's mom; the theft and Wheels' attempt to shift the blame drove a wedge between Wheels and Joey ("Home Sweet Home", DH ep. 208). Snake's parents (portrayed by Ingvar Brogen and Maggie Thomas) refused to let Wheels in the Simpson house. Snake, though fed up with Wheels' attitude,  pitied him and let him sleep the night on the porch. When was Snake is unable to attend the school talent show, Wheels was able to reconcile with Joey by filling in for their friend in a comedic duet ("Showtime Part 2", DH ep. 211).

So! 72

Wheels in jail

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). Ironically, he eventually became both a beer drinker and drunk driver. (School's Out!). At a summer party, he drove 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.  Although Wheels had long worn out Joey's and Snake's sympathy after incessantly lying, stealing and refusing to take responsibility for anything, Joey visited him in pre-trial confinement. Wheels' inability to accept culpability angered and disgusted Snake, who refused to forgive him for twelve years. ("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.

Out of jail, he appeared in the combination reunion movie & series premiere 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 was 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 Snake's 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 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 six characters in Degrassi history to be adopted. The other five are Kendra, Liberty and J.T.'s baby, Derek Haig, Holly J. and Tyson.
  • 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 negligence causing death, and drunk driving.
    • Sean was arrested for illegally street racing and leaving the scene of an accident.
    • Luke was arrested for sexual assault.
  • Wheels was the first character to drink and drive and to kill a young child while under the influence.
  • Wheels was the first character to run away from home. The other three were Craig Manning, Fiona Coyne and Alli Bhandari.
  • He lost his virginity to a girl named Karen sometime prior to June 1992.
  • 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 is one of several students who were born outside of Toronto
  • 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.