Marion Hedges has always loved Halloween. Each year, she would decorate her family’s Upper West Side home, hosting an annual party for underprivileged children for trick-or-treating. “We all went – it gave us so much joy,” she said.
But one routine ride in Uptown Kandy will change her life forever.
On Sunday, October 30, 2011, Hedges brought her 13-year-old son Dayton to the East River Plaza Center in Harlem to buy bulk candy for children in need.
While she was paying for parking with about 1,000 candy bars, two young men hanging in the mall threw a red shopping cart from a fourth-floor driveway next to the target that hit Hedges’ head 79 feet below.
Hedges sustained a broken rib, a broken collarbone and a traumatic brain injury. She spent the next four days in a medical coma at Harlem Hospital. “It’s in God’s hands now,” Michael Hedges, Hedges’ father-in-law, told The Post at the time. “She’s lying unconscious in her bed with 50,000 tubes inside.”
Now, ten years after that fateful day, Marion has directed Tragedy into a new project: a charitable organization directed at the same kind of troubled youth who caused the accident.
“My motto is that I refuse to be a victim,” Marion, who still has severe cognitive problems, told The Post. “I am not a ‘shopping cart victim.’ There is a future, and I don’t like to look into the past.”
But she is remarkably candid about the ordeal she has been through.
“I was running my own business, with a cart full of candy,” said Hedges, 57. “Literally, the sky fell that day.”
Dr. Gaurav Patel, who happened to be in the store with his wife and one-year-old child, heard Dayton’s screams as he watched his mother fall to the ground. Patel, who was in sophomore at the time, revived Hedges with CPR.
When called by phone this week, the horror recalled: “She got into this emergency mode. I saw Marion with her face down on the floor and blood pouring out of her head. She wasn’t breathing, she didn’t have a pulse,” the psychiatrist said. Standing there in shock while I was doing CPR. My wife just assumed she was dead.”
Upon waking, she did not remember the accident that nearly killed her. She was very confused. She could only say two or three words at a time, her husband Michael, who was working in Spain at the time, told The Post this week. It will never be the same.
Marion sustained serious injuries, including permanent brain damage. “It’s like Swiss cheese – there are parts of her brain and parts are missing,” said Michael, 59.
Life up to that point was good for a married mother of two children. Marion grew up on the Upper West Side, attended the Spence School and graduated from Barnard before becoming a successful luxury realtor. “I really love it. I have always been passionate about real estate,” she told The Post.
But volunteering is what really encouraged her. Aside from preparing and serving dinner every Sunday for people with terminal illnesses, longtime board member Marion was named the Junior League’s “Outstanding Volunteer” in 2006.
Today, even modest activity leaves her nervous and she no longer has an active social life.
“Some things have changed. I’m not called to stay at someone’s house for the weekend. I don’t consider myself a cheerful, easy-going, lucky person,” said Marion, who currently lives in Darien, Connecticut. That has changed, but that’s fine.”
During three six-month stints in a cognitive rehabilitation program, Hedges and Moxie’s persistence helped her through her grueling recovery to rebuild her life.
“I have a lot of grit and don’t like the word ‘no,” she said. “A lot of people give up. On the first day of cognitive brain therapy, I was told that these brain cells would not come back. I refused to believe it.”
She had to learn basic things all over again, like how to fry an egg, write things on the calendar, and use the phone. But Hedges was determined to persevere. “I had to learn to swallow again and eat again and read again. I was really a mess. I had to circle the letter A with a 16 line and I couldn’t do it.”
She bought a word search book for kindergarten with words like bed, cat, and dog. “I took off the cover of the book, because I was so embarrassed,” she said. “People on the bus always want to see what you do. I didn’t want them to see.” It eventually worked its way up to crossword puzzles for kids.
Her life – once full of adventure and spontaneity – now revolves around menus and routines.
“I would hop on a plane and meet Michael – I would go to Argentina for the weekend – or London and Paris,” she said. “I haven’t been on a plane in 10 years. Now, even packing a suitcase for me is a Hercules thing. I can’t do that.”
She still has severely impaired vision and cognition problems: she can no longer drive, walks with a cane and has impaired short-term memory. (You might apply deodorant five times without realizing it.)
When she is tired, she has to drink with a straw, otherwise she will suffocate and spit out water.
Michael, who regularly worked abroad in finance, had to make professional sacrifices to care for Marion, who required round-the-clock care.
“I had to make sure she didn’t burn down the house,” he said, adding, “She hasn’t had a night alone in 10 years because it’s not safe. It affected all of us — it affected every aspect of our lives.”
Things got so bad at home that their two children, Dayton, now 23, and Elizabeth, 24, had to move in with their grandmother.
Elizabeth, in particular, had trouble processing her mother’s declining cognitive state.
“It caused her deep emotional problems – she couldn’t be near Marion. Marion wasn’t spending Christmas with her kids it was horrible,” Michael said. “The pain was emotional as much as it was physical. It was devastating.”
Despite her daily struggle with mundane tasks, Marion is determined to look ahead.
her new charity, sweet comeback, aims to help teens create a healthy future for themselves, through after-school programs, mentoring, and a safe place to go.
“It’s an opportunity to turn something bitter into something sweet. The truth is they have a great future, and it can really be crushed by any choice they make. It’s about good decisions,” Marion said.
“The boys who threw the shopping cart at me didn’t make a good decision. It really ruined their lives, and while I refuse to say it ruined my life, it changed my life forever. These kids need someone to give them guidance on being healthy adults.”
In 2012, the two young men who threw the buggy — Raymond Hernandez, 12, and Giovanni Rosario, 13 — pleaded guilty to assault. Rosario was sentenced to six to 18 months in prison in a juvenile facility in Westchester, and Hernandez to six to 16 months in a therapeutic group home. In 2015, Hernandez was busted in a series of 14 robberies.
An uncle told The Post over the phone that Rosario “was on a couple of shows after that,” but now she’s “working–it’s doing well” and has stayed out of trouble. “It stayed clean after that.”
His attorney at the time, Shahabuddin Ali, now a judge, told The Post on Wednesday that he had not spoken to Rosario in years, but added: “This was a tragedy all around.”
After the attack, Marion wished the perpetrators good luck and said, “I feel very sorry for them.”
Her emotional attitude has not changed.
“Hate is a waste of energy and time,” she said. “I survived for a reason. They made a tragic decision – which is why I don’t hate them.”
In 2011, Marion, Dayton and Michael sued Target, the mall and its security company for negligence, claiming that the companies had ignored previous incidents involving children manipulating strollers.
She settled with Target in 2016 for a secret sum, but the civil case would last until last summer – forcing her to endure years of tracking and surveillance.
“For 10 years, people have been following me, watching me, recording me, taking pictures,” Marion said. “Do they really expect me to wheel in the front lawn? They want an ‘aha’ moment – ‘I caught you.’ That’s what they do.”
In June 2018, Hedges was awarded $45.2 million in a civil case, in which a jury found the teens 10 percent liable while 65 percent of the fault was assigned to the mall and 25 percent to planned security services. (Dayton was awarded $2.5 million and Michael $2 million. The Appeals Division later reduced the award to nearly two-thirds of the original amount—nearly $29 million for Marion.)
While the security firm accepted the decision — the mall did not withdraw their appeal until August, according to Hedges’ attorney.
They sent us checks at the end of August – hmm [the mall] Michael said. “They let the problem continue. And our family was devastated in the meantime.”
(The Post’s requests for comment from the mall’s attorneys went unanswered. Planned security services attorney Jeffrey Van Eyten told The Post, “We have no surveillance of Mrs. Hedges…My clients and I wish Mrs. Hedges and her family the best for their future.” )
Two years ago, Michael had a heart attack. He says the past decade has put incredible pressure on him and his family.
“It’s not the woman I married,” he said. “I have to deal with a lot of things I didn’t choose to take in my life. And there are things that are missing in my life, aspects of romance – things that I miss and that make me very sad. It’s hard or rough. Do I stay with the person I love or do I go and try to find other happiness?”
“Marion and I have been together for 30 years and I’m not going anywhere. But at the same time, that comes with a choice.
“What keeps us going is the love of our family and our children and the chance to make a difference in the world in the future. These things push Marion through tough times.”
Marion said she plans to use a portion of the money that was awarded to her to support and fund her charitable foundation, noting that it is under the control of a fund and what it does with it must be approved by the courts.
However, hope to do good with her.
“You only have so many days to live – you have to make it worth it,” she said. “Looking back doesn’t change anything. What if in life it doesn’t make the future.”