WILDWOOD — Two people were killed in a Saturday collision here in an incident connected to the H2oi car rally on a day that included other crashes in the community.
Police were called to a multiple-car accident at Burk and Atlantic avenues at 9:36 p.m. Saturday, with injuries to pedestrians. The driver accused of being at fault attempted to flee the scene but was quickly apprehended, according to police.
Gerald J. White, 37, of Pittsburgh, faces two counts of death by automobile, two counts of assault by auto, along with charges of leaving the scene of an accident, eluding and violation of laws to protect public safety, officials announced. On Sunday, he remained in Cape May County jail pending court proceedings, according to a statement released by Cape May County Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland and Wildwood Police Chief Robert Regalbuto.
Officials connected the crash with the car rally, which local officials say took place without any municipal approvals and despite concerns expressed by police and the Wildwood government. Officials struggled to contain the pop-up car rally, with chaotic scenes unfolding throughout the area with people lining the sidewalks cheering impromptu drag races. Sutherland said the impact of the event disrupted other communities and laid blame on the organizers.
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“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. Directing hundreds if not thousands of people driving high performance vehicles to an area without any planning, staging or permitting created the chaos that led to these deaths and injuries,” Sutherland said. “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.”
Wildwood police and the county’s fatal crash unit investigated and said White was driving a 2003 Infinity when he struck a 2014 Honda Civic and then struck two pedestrians. One of the pedestrians, Lindsay Weakland, 18, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was pronounced dead at the scene.
A passenger of the Honda, Timothy Ogden, 34, of Clayton, Gloucester County, was transported to Atlantic City Medical Center but later died of his injuries, officials said. The investigation continues, Sutherland said, and more charges may be pending.
Officials in the shore resort had warned about the H2oi car event, describing it as an unsanctioned car rally separate from the Fall Classic Car Show taking place this weekend.
Participants in the rally say it is a chance for enthusiasts to check out cool cars and spend time together. But the event has run into serious problems in other communities, particularly in Ocean City, Maryland, where it was held in previous years.
The Wildwoods were already set for a busy weekend, with the Irish Fall Festival in North Wildwood and the Fall Classic Car Show planned in Wildwood. That event is not connected with the H2oi rally.
Rally participants shared videos of multiple instances of Wildwood police impounding and towing cars with modifications that are not legal in New Jersey.
Local police looked to other jurisdictions to help respond to the huge crowds and the reckless driving. Sutherland praised the work of his officers, as well as police in Wildwood, Middle Township and Atlantic City and State Police in their response to the weekend. He also thanked the fire companies and emergency medical responders for their efforts.
He compared the reckless vehicle operation to firing a gun in a crowd, risking injuries to innocent bystanders and children.
“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. Their lives will be forever changed,” Sutherland said in a prepared statement Sunday.
There were other serious accidents, including one on Saturday night involving a low-speed vehicle in which the driver was injured. That took place on Rio Grande Avenue. Multiple videos of that crash were posted late Saturday on several platforms.
On social media, one video shows a car losing control after taking off at a high rate of speed at a traffic light. Another video taken from a different angle shows a vehicle losing control after speeding off a light and clipping another car, then spinning into another lane. A large crowd lines the street. Some seem upset by the crash, while others almost appear to be cheering.
Wildwood police took the unusual step of detouring roads and warning drivers to avoid Pacific, Atlantic and Ocean avenues Saturday.
“These roads have significant traffic backups and other issues related to the unsanctioned H2oi event. Several roads have been detoured,” an announcement read Saturday afternoon.
At 9:30 p.m., police announced the George Redding Bridge, the primary route into town, had been closed, also citing the event.
Police throughout the island had their hands full and looked to the Cape May County Sheriff’s Department and other jurisdictions for support. North Wildwood police said all days off for officers were canceled as reports came in about “pop-up meets” in the parking lot of the Acme.
“The North Wildwood Police has a zero tolerance policy in place in reference to disorderly conduct and reckless driving for this weekend,” reads the Saturday statement. “We hope everyone has a good time at the Fall Classic Car Show in Wildwood and the Irish Fall Festival here but we will not tolerate the nonsense.”
Other posted videos show hundreds of people in the street, defying a police siren and an officer’s orders to clear the way for his vehicle.
Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron said Sunday morning he could not offer much detail yet but said there was a great deal of misinformation circulating on social media.
Several event participants condemned reckless behavior Saturday night.
“What happened tonight is sickening. You all should be ashamed,” one poster said, chastising those who encouraged drivers to undertake risky maneuvers. “People lost loved ones tonight for Instagram likes.”
The event was organized through social media. An administrator of one of the pages initially responded to a request for an interview before the start of the rally but did not respond to specific questions about how the event was organized and how Wildwood was chosen. After the accident, the user profile was no longer visible.
On the page, one commenter said the organizers know the kind of trouble that follows the event and should not have come to the community. Another said Wildwood “is all for cool cars” if people aren’t doing anything stupid.
On Sunday afternoon, Byron said things were very calm in the community after the difficult night.
Contact Bill Barlow:
“What happened tonight is sickening. You all should be ashamed. People lost loved ones tonight for Instagram likes.” Message posted on social media