H2O rally

Ocean City Police issued 41 tickets last weekend, which is notoriously known as the weekend tuner cars were to invade the resort area. But instead, organizers of the social media-fueled event lead participants to Wildwood, New Jersey, where chaos took place and two people tragically died.

The consensus among many people in Ocean City is that this past weekend – traditionally known for an invasion of tuner car enthusiasts who take over the resort – was relatively quiet, but for the people in Wildwood, New Jersey, it was the complete opposite.

The notorious rally was not always as chaotic as it has been in recent years. In fact, the car rally attached itself to the official H2Oi event that took place in Worcester County and was for fans of water-cooled European cars like Volkswagens and Audis.

Ultimately, the massing of vehicles attracted those with highly tuned imported cars that did not qualify for the event.

The group driving smaller Asian-made vehicles were less restrained than the H2Oi owners, leading the latter to be blamed for situations over which it had no control. As a result, H2Oi moved from Ocean City to Atlantic City, while the tuner enthusiasts continued to descend on Ocean City.

Some of the shenanigans that has occurred over the years includes something of a scene out of the movie, “Fast and Furious,” where Hondas, Mitsubishis, and many other brands of vehicles are outfitted with exhaust systems that make loud popping sounds and bodies with large spoilers big enough to hold dinner for four.

The pop-up rally has also included scenes where intersections were blocked so cars to perform donuts and burnouts.

Ocean City officials worked with many law enforcement agencies and state officials to enact a Special Event Zone, in which speeds were reduced to 30 mph across Worcester County. Inside the zone, police looked for illegal car modifications, equipment, and behavior.

Like a bulkhead erected to protect a single property, the waters of this wave were pushed elsewhere – Wildwood to be specific.

In Ocean City, police arrested 41 people over the weekend.

“While the event did not take place in ocean City this year, we took every precaution to be prepared as we have in years past,” the department said in a statement.

In Wildwood, the scene was reminiscent of what Ocean City had experienced.

Social media videos showed blocked intersections with cars doing donuts, when midway through the act people began walking in the middle of the donut and shooting video. Another video showed a man with a bullhorn walking up to vehicles and enticing them to burn out or to drag race up the residential streets.

But then there was a video of two cars stopped at an intersection and ready to race with spectators lined up the street.

When prompted, the car on the left bolted off the line, just as a car moving toward it made a left hand turn in front of the car and caused it to swerved into the incoming lanes to avoid collision.

The remaining car then took off and was struck by a vehicle on the side, forcing it to plow into pedestrians.

Cape May Prosecutor Jeffrey H. Sutherland and Wildwood Police Chief Robert Regaluto issued a joint press release and said the accident occurred at 9:36 p.m. on Sept. 24. When police arrived, they learned Gerald J. White, 37, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was driving a 2003 Infinity when he struck a Honda Civic and two pedestrians.

One of the pedestrians, Lindsay Weakland, 18, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania died at the scene. Timothy Ogden, 34, of Clayton, New Jersey was a passenger in the car White struck and was taken to the Atlantic City Medical Center, where he died of his injuries.

White was charged with death by an automobile, assault by an automobile, eluding police, leaving the scene of an accident, and violation of laws to protect public safety.

Sutherland said the circumstances of the incident are under investigation and additional charges could be filed.

“I would first like to share my sincere condolences with the families of the two victims who were needlessly killed and those that have been injured,” the prosecutor said. “Their lives will be forever changed. Make no mistake that the tragic and dangerous events over the last several days in Wildwood, Rio Grande, Seaville and surrounding communities are a direct result of the organizers of a pop-up car rally self-identified as H2Oi or H2O22.”

Sutherland said the deaths and injuries were the result of organizers directing hundreds, if not thousands of people in high performance vehicles to an area without planning, staging, or permitting.

He forewarned anyone wishing to engage in similar pop-up events will be the target of “swift and appropriate law enforcement” and legal action.

New Jersey State Sen. Michael Testa turned to social media to weigh in on the chaos from Wildwood on Saturday night, criticizing Gov. Phil Murphy’s lack of helping towns respond to pop-up events.

“There aren’t many small towns that can maintain public safety and effectively protect their communities when thousands of rowdy people suddenly show up with little or no warning,” the senator said. “Those are concerns that I heard from local police chiefs and mayors earlier this year. As we witnessed in Wildwood this weekend, these social media-fueled events can get out of control and quickly turn deadly. Unless the Murphy administration works with legislators and local officials who have called for a comprehensive and coordinated plan that includes state support, the problem will only continue to get worse.”

This story appears in the print version of Ocean City Today on Sept. 30, 2022.

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