OCEAN CITY – While Ocean City was spared the brunt of the unsanctioned pop-up motor vehicle event last month, resort officials are reaching out to the New Jersey community that has apparently become the new destination.
For years, the last week in September has been known for the disturbing unsanctioned pop-up car rally and the illicit behavior of some of the event’s hangers-on. At the event’s crescendo about two years ago, it reached the point town officials were discouraging vacationers from visiting the resort during the designated weekend and encouraging residents to simply stay home and avoid the roadways.
Over the course of time, town officials and their allied partners, including the state, took measures to bring the chaos associated with the event under control. At the town’s request, state lawmakers passed a bill creating a special event zone in Ocean City during select motorized events including the unsanctioned pop-up event.
The special event zone, akin to a highway construction zone, includes reduced speed limits, higher fines and the threat of arrest for certain traffic violations and altered traffic patterns. The special event zone legislation was later amended to include the infraction of exhibition driving, which covered a large number of violations associated with the pop-up event.
The town also created a motor vehicle task force, which meets annually to address some of the issues associated with the events. Out of those discussions came more tools to ultimately weed out the event. The Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) took an all-hands-on deck approach and allied law enforcement agencies came into the resort throughout the event to step up the police presence.
Other measures included creating a program allowing law enforcement officers to come onto private property when a business was closed to enforce the laws. The end result has been a pronounced decline in the number of unregistered and unsanctioned participants showing up in Ocean City each late September for the event, which has now apparently moved on to the New Jersey shore community Wildwood. The cumulative efforts of town officials, state lawmakers and the OCPD and its allied partners appear to have achieved the desired results although the resort is not letting its guard down for a potential return of the event.
Last week when the pop-up event materialized in Wildwood, N.J., that resort community experienced the same type of lawlessness associated with the event in Ocean City for years and then some. At the height of the event in Wildwood, two people were killed when one of the participating vehicles slammed into another and then hit two pedestrians, according to published reports.
Officials in Wildwood were aware of the pending event and made some preparations but were apparently not prepared for the sheer volume of participants and the lawlessness of many of them.
At the close of Monday’s meeting, Mayor Rick Meehan said Ocean City has been reaching out to Wildwood officials for possible solutions based on the town’s own experiences.
“I heard the mayor of Wildwood was going to contact me, but I didn’t wait for that contact,” he said. “I reached out and contacted him. He was very grateful for the call, and we had a long dialogue. I sent him information and I sent him copies of the legislation we got passed.”
Meehan said some of the solutions borne out of the motor vehicle task force and state legislation have achieved the desired results in Ocean City, including the special event zone and the Trespass Enforcement Authorization Program (TEAP). Meehan said he has shared that information with the mayor in Wildwood.
“The motor vehicle task force really helped us work through some of these issues,” he said. “I also sent him information about our TEAP program and anything that can assist his community. We hope to have a zoom meeting with them later this week.”
Meehan said Ocean City officials would continue to work with Wildwood officials to work on solutions to some of the problems associated with the event.
“I think that dialogue will continue,” he said. “Our police department did reach out to them during the summer when they saw some of the intel circulating on social media and tried to give them a heads-up.”
The mayor said Wildwood was aware of the potential situation and took steps to prepare but appeared to be overwhelmed.
“I think they planned, but it’s the biggest weekend of the year for them with a big Irish festival and they had all of their public safety officials and law enforcement on duty,” he said. “I think they figured they had enough people, but as we know, it takes an army.”
Meehan said some of the steps taken in Ocean City to curb the pop-up event and similar events will be emulated around the state and beyond.
“What’s happening with this assault by vehicle is happening across the state in other jurisdictions,” he said. “I believe you’ll see the state of Maryland this year during the General Assembly enact new laws copying after our laws that we had passed including the special event zone. We’ll keep at it. We can’t let our guard down and we have to continue to hold the course.”