Wildwood, NJ wants harsher penalties for pop-up events, car rallies
WILDWOOD — City officials and state lawmakers want larger fines and stricter laws to fight pop-up events in the wake of a deadly car rally takeover that overwhelmed the small shore town last month.
Mayor Pete Byron said in a statement Friday that the measures are to make sure the H2Oi event does not return to Wildwood.
"The city solicitor, police chief and administrator have been assigned the task of reviewing all current ordinances and statutorily permitted ordinances that will strengthen law enforcement’s ability to adequately crackdown on rowdy and dangerous driving," Byron said.
Wildwood officials said they would be looking at strategies used by Ocean City, Maryland, which is where the car rally was hosted before it moved to the Jersey Shore. The new ordinances will crack down on reckless driving and modified vehicles, and allow the city to tow vehicles on private lots, according to the statement.
Also among the proposed changes is to triple traffic fines for unsanctioned events. However, maximum fines are set by state law and require support from lawmakers.
Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cumberland, whose district includes Cape May County, said he supports the increased penalties.
"We need to fix both the broken laws that allow for this type of lawless behavior while standing up for our police against those who would rather coddle these would-be lawbreakers and to protect our streets and neighborhoods,” Testa said.
The rally on Sept. 24 quickly became too much for local law enforcement to handle. A state database shows the Wildwood police department has less than 50 officers, who were tasked with handling more than 500 vehicles that came to the event.
A pair of crashes after 9:15 p.m. that night have resulted in charges for two men.
Gerald White, 37, of Pittsburgh, is charged with two counts of first-degree aggravated manslaughter for extreme indifference and two counts of first-degree aggravated manslaughter for eluding police among other offenses for the deaths of Timothy Ogden, 34, and Lindsay Weakland, 18.
Eryk Wnek, 22, of Linden, is charged with second-degree aggravated assault and third-degree assault by auto for a separate crash involving a BMW that left a father of four in critical condition.
Byron told angry residents at a Board of Commissioners meeting on Sept. 28 that officials had no way of knowing the rally would escalate how it did, NJ.com reported.
"We felt that we had more than adequate enough coverage to protect our citizens until that happened because there’s no way we never could have known,” Byron said.