WILDWOOD — New Jersey Republicans are pointing the finger at their colleagues across the aisle for this weekend's unsanctioned pop-up car rally that left two people dead and a father of four hospitalized in critical condition.

U.S. Rep Jeff Van Drew, a former Democrat, blamed "far-left Democrats" for the violence, saying their "weak-on-crime" policies have fueled disrespect for first responders.

"When leaders diminish and demean our police officers, this translates to individuals believing this type of behavior is acceptable and will go unpunished," Van Drew said. "And now we are seeing it right here at home in South Jersey."

Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cumberland, whose district includes Cape May County, called on Gov. Phil Murphy to work with lawmakers to create a comprehensive plan for similar events in the future.

Gov. Phil Murphy, Rep. Jeff Van Drew
Gov. Phil Murphy (OIT/NJ Governor's Office), Rep. Jeff Van Drew (House Television via AP)

“The Murphy administration’s continued inaction in helping towns respond to pop-up parties that have overwhelmed a growing number of Shore communities is disturbing,” Testa said.

Murphy's office responds

Christi Peace, a spokesperson for the governor's office, told New Jersey 101.5 in a statement Wednesday that the Murphy administration worked "hand-in-hand with local authorities" to respond to the situation.

“No one deserves to have their business, home, or life endangered by the careless actions of others," Peace said. "The Administration will remain in contact with municipalities and continue to offer State resources and support to affected communities.”

Wildwood mayor vows no H2Oi 2023

The Wildwood Board of Commissioners said in a statement the night of the rally that Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron, a Democrat, had spoken directly with the governor to ask for additional support. A follow-up statement from the board credited the Murphy administration with assisting as the situation escalated.

"The Governor’s Office helped us to secure assistance from all available State Troopers, as well as Ocean City and Atlantic City Police Departments. We are grateful," the commissioners said.

Byron told 6ABC Action News that the event was a "riot." He promised when speaking to FOX 29 Philadelphia that Wildwood would not go through that "nightmare" again.

"They won't be back next year," Byron said. "I can look you in the eye and say it won't happen."

There were no specific details on what steps local or state officials would take to prevent the car rally's return in 2023.

Lessons learned at H2Oi Maryland

Before it came to Wildwood, the H2Oi rally was held in Ocean City, Maryland, for around a decade, local reports show. As the event grew over time, local officials were forced to respond to similar complaints of burnouts, street racing, and other forms of dangerous driving.

In 2018, Maryland state lawmakers passed legislation to allow the city to create Special Event Zones that lower speed limits and increase fines on tickets. In 2020, the law was strengthened to further penalize "exhibition driving."

At the 2020 H20i event, there were reportedly 277 arrests and nearly 350 vehicles were towed. The crackdown led to the pop-up rally being moved to Wildwood this past weekend.

Wildwood car rally arrests

As of Wednesday morning, the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office had announced charges against two drivers for a pair of major crashes less than fifteen minutes apart.

Gerald White, 37, of Pittsburgh is charged with two counts each of death by auto and assault by auto, along with offenses for fleeing the scene. He is accused of causing a crash at the intersection of Burk and Atlantic Avenues that killed Lindsay Weakland, 18, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and Timothy Ogden, 34, of Clayton.

Eryk Wnek, 22, of Linden, is charged with aggravated assault and assault by auto. Prosecutors say Wnek performed a burnout at the intersection of Rio Grande Avenue and Park Boulevard before spinning into a golf cart occupied by Erhan Bayram, 31, of Williamstown, his girlfriend, and their four daughters.

Rick Rickman is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at richard.rickman@townsquaremedia.com

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