WILDWOOD – Two are dead after an unsanctioned car rally spun out of control in Wildwood late Sept. 24.
The event, known as H2oi, was a “pop-up rally” organized on social media. It had previously been held in Ocean City, Maryland, but moved to Wildwood afterofficials there cracked down on the annual rally.
One TikTok user posted a video hyping up the event in late August with the caption, “All those who are scared of the cops, it’s no longer in Maryland which was the downfall to the event.” The video received over 26,000 likes.
More than 500 cars descended on Wildwood Sept. 22-25 and spilled into neighboring communities.
Ahead of the weekend, police chiefs on the island issued statements warning attendees to stay safe and abide by the law. Chief John Stevenson in North Wildwood announced enforcement measures, including cooperation between businesses and authorities.
It appeared the warnings did not avert tragedy.
The gatherings grew dangerous in Wildwood as nightfall approached Sept. 24.
Videos posted to social media showed car burnouts and donuts–a spinning maneuver that leaves skid marks on the pavement–at intersections across the city. The cars performed for throngs of people clamoring for a good video of the action.
One YouTube video of an accident shows a street lined with spectators.
In the video, the driver of a space gray BMW launches into the intersection and multiple cars collide. The crowd can be heard yelling and clapping. The tenor of the crowd changes as the cameraman runs over to show a man lying unconscious next to a damaged golf cart.
Multiple accidents were reported across the island during the night Sept. 24. In the end, two died and others were injured in the mayhem.
Lindsay Weakland, 18, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania was standing in the area of Burk and Atlantic avenues when she was struck. Weakland was pronounced dead at the scene.
Timothy Ogden, 34, of Clayton was driving a 2014 Honda Civic when he was hit. Ogden was airlifted for his injuries but did not survive.
Both were allegedly hit by Gerald White, 37, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania around 9:30 p.m. After the collision, White attempted to flee the scene but was quickly apprehended. White has been charged with assault and death by automobile on two counts, among a list of other related charges.
White is being held at the Cape May County Correctional Facility.
The chaos coincided with the annual Irish Weekend in North Wildwood, which stretched first responder resources thin.
Struggling to keep up with the crowds, the Wildwood Police Department went so far as to close the George Redding bridge for several hours on the evening of Sept. 24 as a security measure.
Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron spoke with Gov. Phil Murphy to organize police departments from across the county in response, according to a statement from the City of Wildwood late Sept. 25. Officers from Atlantic City, Ocean City, Upper Township, Middle Township, Lower Township, Cape Mayand the State Police assisted in the response.
Local leaders and residents expressed disgust and outrage in the aftermath.
A resident of Wildwood Crest who preferred not to be named told the Herald that employees at her business called out from work Sept. 25, afraid to drive on the roads while the out-of-town drivers were still around.
The Wildwood Board of Commissioners released a statement saying they would “work jointly with our neighboring communities to further prevent any unsanctioned event like H2oi from ever occurring in our region again.”
Middle Township released a statement assuring the public that a multi-agency investigation was underway. In no uncertain terms, Mayor Tim Donohue assured the public that “the organizers of this lawless mayhem will be held accountable.”
State Senator Michael Testa (R-1) released a statement saying thatlocal leaders have been trying to respond to pop-up parties at the shore, but Gov. Phil Murphy has been uncooperative. He called on Murphy to take action.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd) drew a direct link between the mayhem in Wildwood and what hetermed “weak-on-crime policies.”
“President Biden and the Democrat majority in Congress must stop allowing career criminals to walk the streets, we must detain individuals for heinous crimes up until trial, and prosecutors must follow the rule of law when issuing sentences,” he stated.
County Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland made an analogy to drive-by shootings.
"Driving a motor vehicle at a high speed in a populated area is essentially the same as discharging a firearm," Sutherland stated. "Anyone thinking of engaging in organizing any type of similar pop-up event is forewarned that there will be a swift and appropriate law enforcement and legal response."
Though White's arrest was confirmed by authorities, it remains to be seen if any others hadyet been arrested in connection with the rally Sept. 24. Police did not say how many were injured in Wildwood.
Any charges are accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.