After two people were killed this weekend in Wildwood, NJ, when a driver hit a car and then struck two pedestrians during an unauthorized drag racing rally known as H2Oi, the mayor has said his first order of business on Monday morning would be a call to his counterpart in Ocean City, Maryland.
It was there during an H2Oi event in 2019 that the city was “under siege”, according to its then-mayor. In 2020, when the group last visited, Ocean City Police issued over 3,500 citations and seized and towed over 350 cars throughout this rally.
“I can’t stop someone from crossing the bridge with a car, we have to have a just cause,” Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron said. “So [Ocean City’s officials] had to find some kind of legal solution to be able to discourage them from coming.
In Wildwood, police have charged Gerald J. White, 37, of Pittsburgh, with two counts of death by automobile and two counts of assault by automobile, in the death of Lindsay Weakland, 18, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and Timothy Ogden, 34, of Clayton, NJ, along with other charges related to White’s attempt to flee the scene, according to Cape May County District Attorney Jeffrey H. Sutherland and Chief of Police in Wildwood, Robert Regalbuto.
“We have heard of tragic deaths in this country due to stray bullets from illegal firing hitting innocent bystanders and children. It’s no different,” said Sutherland, who blamed the deaths on the H2Oi rally. “Driving a motor vehicle at high speed in a populated area is essentially discharging a firearm. The results are the same, dead and injured.
According to a press release from the prosecutor’s office, police were called to the intersection of Burk and Atlantic avenues after a report of a multi-vehicle crash involving pedestrians around 9:30 p.m. Saturday.
White was driving a 2003 Nissan Infiniti when he first hit a 2014 Honda Civic and then struck two pedestrians. Weakland, a pedestrian, died at the intersection. Ogden, a passenger in the Honda, died at Atlantic City Medical Center from his injuries. Police apprehended White after he attempted to flee the scene. No information about possible injuries to the other pedestrian was released by police on Sunday.
Authorities were aware of the roadside festivities planned for this weekend, and city commissioners issued a statement on September 21 warning against reckless driving.
“The Board of Commissioners emphasizes that all visitors to the Wildwoods are welcome and must obey all ordinances and laws while visiting,” the statement read.
The group, also known as H2oi or H2022, came to Wildwood the same weekend as the “Fall Classic Car Show,” which Byron says was a 30-year tradition that takes place as a parade l afternoon along Pacific Avenue and later to Wildwoods. Congress Palace.
The usually quiet display of old-school automobiles has never coincided with anything like the H2Oi rally, but Byron said officials planned it with the New Jersey State Police, basing their preparations about the previous weekend’s rallies the group held in Ocean City, Maryland.
But Byron said Wildwood’s plans to control the event were overwhelmed by the large crowd.
“The game plan didn’t include the number of people who came down, which was in the thousands,” Byron said. “That game plan went out the window on the second day, when the number of people who were here far exceeded the amount expected by the state police.”
Meanwhile, social media accounts featured a motoring community raging over Wildwood’s ‘takeover’ and trying to create distance between the tragedy and what many said were once just car enthusiasts wanting to have a good time.
“Takeovers are different from shows and meetups in big cities,” read a post on the h2oicars Instagram account, which was later deleted. “The takeovers show no regard or respect for the families or visitors to this city, and undo years of effort to earn the respect of the automotive community that so many have fought for.”
An administrator of the Facebook group “H2oi wildwood 2022” did not respond to messages seeking comment, and a later post on the site reported that all admins had left the group.
“H2oi ocmd will never be the same again,” reads the “About” section of the Facebook group. “Even if all the kids in the show stop coming, the laws they put in place for car modification will never go away. It’s time to move on.”
Tyler Keller of Philadelphia, who witnessed the aftermath of the crash, described a crowd scene and a pall of smoke over the smashed Infiniti and a body in the street.
Keller, 25, is a follower of Facebook group H2Oi but had only ever attended one other event in 2020. He says the group started as a get-together for Volkswagen and Audi enthusiasts, but it attracted more and more dangerous and aggressive drivers as it grew in popularity.
“Not everyone who went to Wildwood for H2Oi was there to wreak havoc,” Keller said. “It’s quite sad that everyone attending the event this weekend is lumped into the same group of people who caused this tragedy.”
Keller said there are now discussions among members of the Facebook group about creating a sanctioned version of dating with safeguards to protect the public.
“The H2Oi group has been hit hard by what happened and a lot of discussions will need to take place if there will ever be a chance to recover from this,” Keller said. “It will have to be sanctioned and a place will have to be earned so that the reckless can do the stupid things safely.”
Dangerous driving and road deaths have increased since 2020 in the United States, part of a trend of reckless and uncivil behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released data showing that 20,175 people died in car crashes in the first half of 2022, a 0.5% increase from the first half of 2021.
The federal government, however, reported that the period between April and June saw the first drop in the number of deaths after seven consecutive quarters of increasing carnage, which began in 2020.