NJ Police were gearing up for a wild car show in Wildwood. How did he become mortal?

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By the time the haze of spent gasoline and burnt rubber cleared on Saturday evening, two people were dead.

Vehicles descended rapidly on Wildwood, part of an impromptu car show known as H2oi, H20i or H2022, and once the chaos reached fever pitch, cars fled just as fast.

But the damage was done. Two were killed in an accident involving several cars. Still others have been injured in separate collisions, including when a car hit a golf cart. Following an ‘unauthorized’ car encounter that brought some 500 vehicles to the iconic town of Shore and wreaked havoc on nearby communities, officials and residents are asking: how did this happen?

And could it happen again?

“The cops knew they were coming,” said Anthony Bucolo, owner of the Fountain Motel on Atlantic Avenue, which sits near the fatal crash site in Wildwood, a picture-postcard town occupying just 1.6 square miles on a barrier island.

“But they didn’t think there would be so many people.”

In interviews, local residents, business owners, city officials and law enforcement said police acted quickly when the meet-the-cars event turned unruly on Saturday night, but several local officials acknowledged that the police were overwhelmed.

“We could never have foreseen this happening,” Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron said at a meeting of the Cape May County Board of Commissioners Wednesday night.

“We felt we had more than adequate cover to protect our citizens until it happened, because we never could have known.”

According to the state attorney general, at least 30 state troopers responded, along with officers from surrounding towns, including Middle Township, through mutual aid agreements. The Cape May district attorney’s office said much of the blame lies with the organizers of the unauthorized event.

“Directing hundreds, if not thousands, of people driving high performance vehicles into an area without any planning, staging or authorization created the chaos that led to these deaths and injuries,” the Cape May County prosecutor said. , Jeffrey Sutherland, in a statement.

The prosecutor said the chaos of the rally affected Wildwood and the surrounding communities of Rio Grande and Seaville.

“Anyone considering engaging in the organization of any type of similar pop-up event is warned that there will be a prompt and appropriate law enforcement and legal response,” he said.

The driver of a blue Volkswagen revs his engine as he passes a Middle Township Police officer standing on a street corner in Wildwood, NJ on Saturday, September 24, 2022.David Hernández | For NJ Advance

“I think the police were somewhat surprised,” said David Adelizzi, manager of the Crystal Sands Motel.

“This has never happened before. We’ve had the motel for 25 years, but have stayed my entire life. 65 years. I’ve never seen such chaos in Wildwood, ever.

There were warning signs the event could spin out of control, experts said.

The first major red flag was that its organizers had no license or authorization, said Brian Higgins, former Bergen County Police Chief, John Jay professor and public safety consultant.

“You don’t want unauthorized events,” he said. “You want events that say they’re going to be there and local law enforcement can review their measure to prevent injuries.”

Higgins said there were many reasons why event organizers would avoid working with local authorities – being skeptical of law enforcement or simply trying to avoid having to pay for police presence, for example.

“Because then you get into the issue of escape routes, parking routes, do you have enough public safety personnel on duty?” he said.

It shouldn’t be allowed in the first place, a professor of criminal justice studies remarked.

“You can’t do that on a regular city street when you’re under traffic laws,” said Jason Williams of Montclair State University. “I also look at the volume of people who have shown up. It is a serious problem.

Through a spokeswoman, state Attorney General Matthew Platkin said local and state law enforcement knew about the event well in advance.

“While New Jersey’s law enforcement community responded effectively and quickly to restore order and safety to the community of Wildwood and we commend these efforts, our communities should never be disrupted and our residents should never never be harmed by unlawful, unruly and dangerous gatherings such as the event that took place this weekend in Wildwood,” Platkin said through a spokeswoman.

Gov. Phil Murphy — a Democrat whose administration has been criticized that the state hasn’t done enough to respond to similar “pop-up parties” along the Jersey Shore this summer — said officials would review what had happened to help us “make us stronger and better next time.

Murphy said there was no “one size fits all” to the problem.

The Attorney General has also pledged to bring the organizers to justice.

“People planning, profiting from and engaging in large-scale events should work with local leaders to ensure that gatherings are held responsibly and in compliance with all local laws and ordinances – or not held not at all,” the statement said.

So far, two people have been charged in connection with the crashes.

Gerald J. White, 37, of Pittsburgh, Pa., is now charged with multiple counts of motor vehicle death, motor vehicle assault and related crimes. Another driver, Eryk R. Wnek, 22, is charged with aggravated assault and assault by motor vehicle after hitting a golf cart occupied by two adults and four minors.

A pedestrian, Lindsay Weakland, 18, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania and Timothy Ogden, 34, of Clayton, died of their injuries.

Vehicles ram into pedestrians during unauthorized motoring event

A blue Honda is loaded onto a flatbed tow truck in Wildwood, NJ on Saturday, September 24, 2022. David Hernández | For NJ Advance

Higgins said the response to the event raised many questions that law enforcement will need to answer in the coming weeks.

“Wildwood has to decide how they are going to handle this. Will they look away and let it be? He asked. “If no one had been injured, would it have happened like other car shows or street races in the past and they weren’t being proactive?

“They can’t let this go. Those involved in planning this need to be held accountable.

Higgins remembers being the Bergen County Police Chief and authorities in Edgewater, which sits at the foot of the stockades across from New York, struggling with gatherings of drag racers.

“Not only would there be a high level public police presence, but they would speak to business owners ahead of time and let them know what was going on,” he said.

Eventually, he said, drag racing died down.

Pete Byron, Mayor of Wildwood told CBS News that his town was willing “to make sure they never want to come back to Wildwood again, quite frankly.”

Platkin, the acting AG, pledged to work to prevent such deaths in the future.

“Never should an entertainment event result in senseless injuries and loss of life suffered in our state this weekend,” he said.

NJ Advance Media Staff Writers Brent Johnson, Amira Sweilem and Nicholas Fernandes contributed to this report.

SP Sullivan can be attached to [email protected].

Katie Kausch can be contacted at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @Katie Kaush.

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