Shaun's Last Ride

When a videotaped motorcycle stunt goes terribly wrong, who's to blame- the guy in front of the camera or the one behind it?

October 13, 2004|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

In the back yard of his Walkersville home, Ray Matlock sits in a gazebo as two Siamese cats spar. They'll be all right, he says. They make him smile, even today. The midday is perfectly weathered: a sneak of full fall in the air, football weather. Matlock wears a Ravens visor and talks so softly you wonder if he is always this soft-spoken, or whether the death of his boy has knocked the words out of him.

A 1968 Oldsmobile is in the garage; his son had restored the classic. The car is a surviving point of pride. Shaun Paul Matlock, 21, the youngest of three children, had been an automotive wiz. At Shaun's vigil last month, maybe a hundred kids raised their hands when asked if he had worked on their cars.

"I didn't know how many lives he touched," says Matlock, 58.

He also hadn't known that his son was planning to take part in a motorcycle stunt on four-lane U.S. 340 about three miles west of Frederick a month ago. Shaun Matlock, on a borrowed Yamaha motorcycle, was one of two riders performing high-speed wheelies Sept. 12. Friends came out to watch the stunts, during which Matlock wasn't wearing pants or underwear - just a T-shirt, shoes and a helmet featuring the logo of the Holding It Big entertainment company. He had considered wearing a toga.

Benjamin Meacham, owner of Holding It Big, a stunt promoter, followed in a sport utility vehicle. As Meacham videotaped, Matlock pulled his bike up into a wheelie while approaching a speed of 80 mph. But when he brought the bike down, Matlock lost control and slammed into a tow truck parked on the shoulder. He died at the scene. A nearby guardrail was soon marked by flowers, messages and photographs in his memory.

"He was being a fool and acting crazy," Meacham said later. "It was just a freak accident ... a stunt gone bad."

But for Ray Matlock, that's not explanation enough. His grown son made a bad choice, but what kind of "entertainment" features young men popping wheelies on an open highway while a guy hangs out of a van with a video camera? Matlock partially blames his son's death on a daredevil, fame-thirsty culture illustrated by MTV's Jackass show, which some claim has inspired fatal copycat stunts. He also blames Meacham and his stunt company.

"What pushes this over the limit is the video camera," Matlock says. "Doesn't it make sense that somebody should be responsible?"

"We're all responsible for what we do," Meacham says.

Ben Meacham's driving record just got worse.

Meacham, 22, has been charged with reckless endangerment and negligent driving in connection with Shaun Matlock's fatal crash, violations that carry combined fines of $850. Meacham was charged under a provision that states that anyone who induces, causes, permits or directs another person to commit a traffic violation is also guilty of the violation, said Scott Rolle, the state's attorney in Frederick County.

"I wanted [Rolle] to go further," says Shaun Matlock's aunt, Roxanne Beal, who maintains that Meacham pressured Shaun into performing the stunt so he could film it for one of his company's stunt documentaries. "Everybody needs to share a little of the guilt here."

(The other cyclist popping wheelies in the stunt, 21-year-old Brandon M. Edwards of Ijamsville, was charged with indecent exposure, reckless and negligent driving, and driving with a learner's permit without supervision. He was not injured.)

Meacham was not available for comment days after the accident, but now says his friend Shaun Matlock had told him months ago about a stunt he wanted to try. Meacham says he agreed to videotape the high-speed wheelie because "Shaun wanted proof."

After the crash, police had been investigating whether Meacham's videotape of the incident had been erased, which could have brought charges of obstructing justice. The tape had been erased, Meacham said, but it was done "in the panic" because he "didn't want it out there for the family." He denied earlier news reports and the family's claim that the stunt was filmed for one of the stunt documentaries advertised on his company's Web site.

"There was no movie being shot," Meacham said. He also denied that he urged Matlock to perform the stunt. "Nobody was encouraging him to do anything," Meacham says. "He was a thrill-seeker every day of his life."

But state's attorney Rolle says it's irresponsible to tape dangerous and illegal stunts on an open highway. "People think it's exciting and cool to tape this kind of thing," Rolle says. "I want to shake them and ask them, `Is it worth it?' "

Including the new charges, Meacham has amassed an extensive record of driving violations. Among 39 traffic citations, he has been charged with speeding nine times, and with reckless driving four times. He's been cited for driving with a suspended license, driving without tags, driving with someone else's license plate, and driving with a learner's permit without supervision. "I was young and stupid," Meacham says.

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