September 19, 2023
Nearly a year after two people were killed during an unsanctioned car rally in Wildwood, police are working to prevent the H2oi pop-up from returning to the Jersey Shore community.
At least 500 cars came to last year's Sept. 24 event, according to police. A speeding Infiniti driver struck another car and several pedestrians near the intersection of Burk and Atlantic avenues, killing two bystanders. Another driver crashed his BMW into a golf cart, seriously injuring one of its occupants.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Wildwood police said they are actively monitoring social media and have warned groups promoting car rallies to shut down their accounts. All social media pages known to be promoting a meetup in Wildwood have been removed from their respective platforms, police said. There is no indication that a large-scale event has been planned, but police are preparing for the possibility of drivers returning to Wildwood later this month.
"The Wildwood Police Department with the assistance of the City of Wildwood Solicitor were able to quickly identify the promoters of these groups and legally advise them to cease and desist their promotion of these unsanctioned events," police said in the post.
The annual H2oi rally was first organized in September 2010. For years, H2oi was held in Ocean City, Maryland, bringing hundreds of auto enthusiasts there to drag race, do burnouts and rev their engines.
But when Ocean City cracked down on the event in 2018 by increasing fines for speeding and performing burnouts, groups affiliated with H2oi sought other locations for the meetup, including Wildwood.
After last year's event, the organizer of a Facebook page promoting the event shut the page down and urged people to contribute to GoFundMe campaigns for the victims who were killed, NJ.com reported.
“What happened this past weekend was horrifying, and should never have happened," the page administrator, Shawn Khellawan, wrote on Facebook.
Four people were charged with crimes connected to the rally in Wildwood.
The driver of the Infiniti, Gerald J. White, 38, of Pittsburgh, was charged with aggravated manslaughter and other offenses. He allegedly had been fleeing from police before the collision occurred. A pedestrian and a person who was in the struck car were injured in the crash. In February, White rejected a plea deal and is still in prison awaiting his trial, the Cape May County Herald reported.
Authorities also charged another driver, Eryk Wnek, 23, of Linden, for allegedly crashing his BMW into a golf cart that had six people in it.
Joshua Bocchino, 20, of Long Branch, was charged with assaulting a police officer during the rally. And Zion Diaz, 19, of Hammonton, was charged with rioting for encouraging drivers to block intersections.
Wildwood leaders said last fall they would seek to emulate Ocean City's actions by tripling the cost of fines for traffic violations and towing charges linked to unsanctioned car rallies. Such changes would require approval from the state legislature.
State Sen. Michael Testa, a Republican whose district includes Cape May County, introduced legislation in 2021 that would expand the state's definition of a riot to include criminal conduct during car meets like the H2oi pop-up. That bill stalled after it was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Cape May County Prosecutor's Office and Wildwood police did not immediately respond Tuesday when asked whether any other efforts have been made to increase penalties for people who break the law during car rallies.