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2 killed in Wildwood during ‘hectic’ pop-up H2oi car rally, authorities say

NJ.com 9/26/2022 Steven Rodas, nj.com
Police break up a gathering in the Convention Center parking lot following a pop-up car rally in Wildwood, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022. © Tim Hawk/nj.com/TNS Police break up a gathering in the Convention Center parking lot following a pop-up car rally in Wildwood, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022.

Two people were killed following a pop-up car rally in Wildwood on Saturday and a 37-year-old man has been charged with their deaths, according to the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office.

The incident occurred Saturday night during a string of car crashes related to an “unsanctioned” car meet-up event known as H2oi or, H20i, or H2022.

Police talk to people near the intersection to Rio Grande Avenue and Park Avenue in Wildwood, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022. At least two people were killed Saturday night during the pop-up car rally. © Tim Hawk/nj.com/TNS Police talk to people near the intersection to Rio Grande Avenue and Park Avenue in Wildwood, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022. At least two people were killed Saturday night during the pop-up car rally.

Gerald J. White, 37, of Pittsburgh, Pa. is charged with two counts of death by auto and other related charges including leaving the scene of the accident, according to a statement from the prosecutor’s office.

Authorities say they were called to Burk and Atlantic Avenues around 9:36 p.m. for a multi-car crash involving pedestrians. White, who was driving a 2003 Infinity, is accused of hitting a 2014 Honda Civic and then hitting two pedestrians. Police say he attempted to flee but was soon caught.

People at the intersection to Rio Grande Avenue and Park Avenue in Wildwood record cars passing by, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022. At least two people were killed Saturday night during the pop-up car rally. © Tim Hawk/nj.com/TNS People at the intersection to Rio Grande Avenue and Park Avenue in Wildwood record cars passing by, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022. At least two people were killed Saturday night during the pop-up car rally.

One of the pedestrians, Lindsay Weakland, 18, of Carlisle, Pa., was pronounced dead at the scene. A passenger in the Civic, Timothy Ogden, 34, of Clayton, was taken to Atlantic City Medical Center but later died from his injuries, police said.

White was also charged with two counts of assault by auto, eluding, leaving the scene of an accident, and violation of laws to protect public safety. He’s being held in Cape May County Correctional Facility.

The prosecutor’s office said additional charges may still be filed.

Videos on several social media sites out of Wildwood Saturday night show modified vehicles revving their engines and peeling out at traffic lights as onlookers crowd into the streets to watch, cheer them on and record with their cell phones.

In at least one video, a massive crowd fills the streets of Ocean Avenue, blocking police from getting through.

NJ Advance Media saw three damaged vehicles at the scene of the fatal accident near Bagel Time Cafe on Atlantic Avenue near Burke Avenue, where one of the cars had struck the building. A SUV from the state medical examiner’s office was also on site.

Burn outs on Atlantic Avenue in Wildwood following a pop-up car rally, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022. © Tim Hawk/nj.com/TNS Burn outs on Atlantic Avenue in Wildwood following a pop-up car rally, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022.

“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 H20i or H2022,” a statement from Cape May Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland said. “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.”

Bent parking meters in front of Bagel Time Cafe in Wildwood where an accident occurred, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022. At least two people were killed Saturday night during the pop-up car rally. © Tim Hawk/nj.com/TNS Bent parking meters in front of Bagel Time Cafe in Wildwood where an accident occurred, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022. At least two people were killed Saturday night during the pop-up car rally.

Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron told NJ Advance Media midday Sunday that it had been a “pretty hectic last 24, 48 hours” and that there were additional injuries involving a golf cart on Rio Grande Avenue that was struck by one of the H20i vehicles.

Multiple graphic videos from Saturday night depict a car taking off from a standstill in the far right lane at an intersection on Rio Grande Avenue, and another car in the lane next to it clipping it, causing it to lose control and veer into a golf-cart-style vehicle on the opposite side of the road. At least one passenger from the golf cart is seen unresponsive in the road. It’s unclear if any of those passengers were seriously injured.

Tire markings following a pop-up car rally in Wildwood, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022. © Tim Hawk/nj.com/TNS Tire markings following a pop-up car rally in Wildwood, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022.

Low-speed vehicles often have additional safety features like seat belts, are allowed under state law as long as they meet the requirements, which include having them registered with the state and travel on 25 mph roads. It’s not clear if this vehicle met those requirements.

Olivia Galing, of Rahway, was in Wildwood visiting, but not part of the car meet-up and said on Sunday she witnessed the crash on Atlantic Avenue. She described a crowded, chaotic scene.

“We were standing on Atlantic, and a car came speeding down the street going like 80 miles per hour and he ran like four red lights and then we just heard a big bang, like a loud crash,” she said. “And then everybody started running down so we went down to the corner and we saw the car up on the curb and they had a sheet out already.”

A blue Honda is loaded onto a flatbed tow truck in Wildwood, NJ on Saturday, September 24, 2022. Visible on the ground, is glass and other debris from the collision. © Dave Hernandez | For/nj.com/TNS A blue Honda is loaded onto a flatbed tow truck in Wildwood, NJ on Saturday, September 24, 2022. Visible on the ground, is glass and other debris from the collision.

“It was nuts, kids trying to do burnouts and stuff like that,” she added. “But there were so many people lined up on the side of the road. Kids were standing in the middle of the street on the yellow lines recording things. So it was gonna happen somebody was gonna get hurt.”

A sedan is wedged between a small black pick up truck and the Bagel Time Cafe in Wildwood, NJ on Saturday, September 24, 2022. © Dave Hernandez | For/nj.com/TNS A sedan is wedged between a small black pick up truck and the Bagel Time Cafe in Wildwood, NJ on Saturday, September 24, 2022.

Saturday’s crowd wasn’t the first, however. Hundreds of people also showed up at Lowe’s parking lot in Middle Township on Friday night. Mayor Tim Donahue said in a statement that after that gathering, the township was prepared on Saturday by putting police at key parking lots in the 72-square-mile town until 4 a.m. However, it’s unclear if any of the crowds appeared in Middle Township on Saturday.

“There is much to still be learned about the reckless chaos that has descended about our streets this weekend,” Donahue said in a statement. “Believe me, a thorough investigation is underway and there will be criminal charges brought and the organizers of this lawless mayhem will be held accountable.”

“We pray for the families of those who were senselessly killed and maimed in the chaos overnight in Wildwood,” he added. “The scenes are horrifying.”

In a statement early Sunday morning, officials said Byron has “been monitoring the unsanctioned H2oi/H2022 event all weekend’' and he spoke directly to Gov. Phil Murphy regarding the situation Saturday night.

The gathering was previously held in Ocean City, Maryland, where authorities faced speeding cars, crashes and large crowds.

In addition to the New Jersey State Police and police from Wildwood’s three departments, units from Cape May, Atlantic City and Ocean City responded to calls Saturday night, authorities said.

“Every available police officer and fire patrol was called in, and despite being grossly outmanned, are doing a great job as dispatch works extremely hard to keep up with the calls,” the Wildwood board of commissioners said in its statement.

Murphy’s office said the governor is “saddened by the senseless harm and damage that has occurred in Wildwood as a result of this event.”

“The Governor urges both residents and visitors to coordinate any large gatherings with local officials and to follow all applicable laws in order to keep themselves and the local community safe,” Murphy spokeswoman Christi Peace said in a statement to NJ Advance Media. “As always, the State will continue to offer support to local officials in responding to crisis situations whenever necessary.”

NJ Advance Media staff writers Adam Clark, Tim Hawk, Brent Johnson, and Keith Sargeant contributed to this report.

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A tow truck removes vehicle from the scene of an accident in Wildwood, NJ on Saturday, September 24, 2022.

A tow truck removes vehicle from the scene of an accident in Wildwood, NJ on Saturday, September 24, 2022.
© Dave Hernandez | For/nj.com/TNS
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