Ocean City Today

Mayor: H2Oi has no place in resort

Council to consider tough choices after underground car rally gets nightmarish
By Katie Tabeling | Oct 05, 2017
Photo by: Jason Dunne

(Oct. 6, 2017) In the aftermath of what Ocean City officials called a “horrible” car rally weekend, Mayor Rick Meehan called on the council, residents and business owners to unite to prevent such an event from happening again.

“Those that came here that disrespected our community, challenged our police and wore tickets as badges aren’t wanted here,” he said during Monday’s council session. “The type of behavior we saw was unacceptable. We need to discourage and displace this event. It’s going to be painful, because it’ll probably disrupt our citizens and businesses to do what we need to do.”

Ocean City Police and other law enforcement agencies arrested 78 people between Sept. 28 and Oct. 1, after hundreds of young car enthusiasts descended on resort in loud, low and often customized compact cars for a gathering created through social media.

Ostensibly, they would have been here for the annual water-cooled Volkswagen/Audi show known as H2Oi, but that event was postponed when the show sponsor had difficulty lining up a headquarters location. That did not dissuade the element that made the weekend miserable for residents, other visitors and standard motorists.

Police Chief Ross Buzzuro said police responded to 2,735 calls last weekend, and most of them involved large unruly crowds attempting to provoke a fight. Several officers suffered minor injuries while making arrests. Those injured included a Worcester County Sheriff deputy and an Ocean City officer who apparently were intentionally hit by a car by a teen allegedly trying to avoid arrest for marijuana possession.

While that teen was charged with various counts of attempted murder, most arrests were for disorderly conduct, open container, assault and other charges.

“There were a handful of visitors this weekend who came to simply enjoy our city,” Buzzuro said in a press release. “Unfortunately, it was the vast majority of the participants that quickly ruined it for everyone, with unruly behavior and zero respect for our laws and property.”

Twenty-eight crashes were reported last weekend, one of which involved a pedestrian. An Ocean City Police patrol officer struck an unidentified pedestrian Friday night when he made a left turn on Coastal Highway near 56th Street.

The 26-year-old man was treated on the scene and later flown to Peninsula Regional Medical Center via Maryland State Police Trooper 4 helicopter. He was released that night with minor injuries. A preliminary investigation showed that the Police SUV had a green light and the pedestrian was legally in the crosswalk.

Ocean City police and members from five other agencies made 1,263 traffic stops over the four days, but Meehan said that it still wasn’t enough.

“You saw the stops, but you also saw people passing them by,” he said Monday night. “We all know we have to take extreme measures to discourage this event, and I think all options should be on the table.”

The City Council all agreed with the mayor, but each of them offered different perspectives on how to proceed.

“I just don’t know what the answer is at this point,” Councilman Wayne Hartman said. “It’s not a secret the work [the police have done] and it wasn’t enough. Maybe we need inspection stations at entrances to town. If they have illegal exhaust systems or whatever, we can stop them before they come to town.”

Hartman asked the City Manager Doug Miller to keep the issue on the agenda and asked Councilman Dennis Dare, the Police Commission chairman, to bring in county Sheriff Reggie Mason and the Maryland State Police to brainstorm ideas.

Dare suggested looking into if there could be a legal recourse for promoters who stage unwanted events.

“Everyone says to get more enforcement, and we saw maxed-out resources and police. It’s not the solution,” he said. “Even though this event was cancelled, it’s been promoted for a year. We need to go to the promoter and say we’re not interested, or there could be pending legal action. We’re past the point to put a Band-Aid on what’s broken.”

Councilmen John Gehrig and Matt James both said it was time to lean heavily on local businesses.

“There’s no off-switch for this. We need to work with our industry partners, and they need to offer solutions,” Gehrig said. “Saying we don’t want them doesn’t do anything. We need change and it’s going to require all of us working together.”

James had blunter terms for it.

“This weekend was horrible,” he said. “I work with hotels, and this is a perfect example of bad business and not what we should want. Hopefully, we’ll hear from you [the public] on ideas in the future.”

Council President Lloyd Martin, who runs two uptown 7-Elevens said he found no benefit to this event.

“We’re trying to make this a family resort and make this something we’re proud of, but this is not something we’re proud of,” Martin said. “We’re not proud of the events that come in and ruin the quality of life for our residents and visitors. We’re not just about making a dollar, we’re about making this a great community for our residents and visitors.”

Meehan suggested cutting down the lanes on Coastal Highway as a necessary evil for the next H2Oi show.

“[We and] all of the businesses, all of the residents have to be strong,” he said. “I hope when it comes time to make those hard decisions, the mayor and council stands strong and the business community respects those decisions. Let’s keep this discussion going forward and get the word out that Ocean City is not going to tolerate this type of activity.”

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