Suffering persists for paralyzed ex-stuntwoman

Tue Jun 15, 2010 10:36pm EDT
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By David Robb

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Heidi von Beltz was a stunning 24-year-old actress and world-class skier in 1980 when she got a call from her boyfriend, "Cannonball Run" stunt coordinator Bobby Bass, to head to the desert outside Las Vegas and double for the film's female lead, Farrah Fawcett.

A top-notch athlete, Heidi was training to be a stuntwoman, and Bobby thought she could do it. It was a disaster waiting to happen.

The stunt called for an Aston Martin to weave its way through a line of speeding, oncoming cars, but the car was plagued with mechanical problems. The steering barely functioned, and the clutch and speedometer didn't work. To make matters worse, the vehicle had no seat belts.

The driver, Jimmy Nickerson, wanted to wait until the car could be repaired, but he was told that the parts from Los Angeles had not arrived and that he'd have to "make do."

"The last thing I remember before the crash was somebody yelling, 'Faster! Faster!' over the walkie-talkie," Heidi recalls.

Her car, in which she was a passenger operating the smoke machine to make the car look as if it was on fire, slammed head-on into the first in the line of onrushing cars, and she was hurtled into the windshield. When members of the crew got to the scene of the accident, they found Heidi unconscious, her head hanging limply on her chest, her neck crushed. In that moment, on that day 30 years ago this month, her life would change forever. She was paralyzed from the neck down, and remains so to this day.

Heidi spent the next six months in the hospital. Around Christmas, she went home to her one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood, and her whole family -- father Brad, mother Patty, aunt Joanna, sister Christy and niece Allison -- moved in with her and took care of her day and night.

Her lawyer, San Francisco attorney Melvin Belli, filed a wrongful-injury suit on her behalf, and she eventually settled for $7 million -- much of which went to her attorneys and a mountain of medical bills.   Continued...