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Wildwood Residents Show Up to Demand Answers, Solutions

Wildwood Police Chief Robert Regalbuto addresses the Wildwood city leaders and the public at the commissioner's meeting Sept. 28

By Christopher South

WILDWOOD — It was standing room only in the Wildwood Board of Commissioners meeting room, Sept. 28. Citizens turned out in droves to both praise the Wildwood police for their work and complain that the city did not adequately prepare for the fatal H2oi car rally. 
Citizens said the city should have had a plan to handle the large crowd of sport-compact car enthusiasts, who some in attendance labeled “young thugs.” Many in the audience said people were aware the H2oi event was coming to Wildwood, and that authorities should have been prepared to write tickets, make arrests and impound cars. 
“We knew this was coming for a month,” Catina Blineberry said. “We heard the engines revving on Thursday. Why were you not pulling over these cars?”
“Thursday night could have set the example. I wanted to tell Regs (Police Chief Robert Regalbuto) to start impounding the cars before we have a disaster,” she said.
Blineberry said she called the police and the dispatcher told her she should talk to the city officials who issued the permit for the event. 
Mayor Pete Byron said there was no permit issued for what was described as an unsanctioned event. Byron said there was no way of knowing what form the pop-up car rally would take. 
He referred to a conversation with the mayor of Ocean City Maryland, Rick Meehan, who said the first such event in his town was rather small, but it developed over several years until it got out of control. 
Ocean City, Maryland had a serious problem with the unsanctioned car rallies for years, but there were no deaths as a result. A smaller event was held there this year; police there have released the names of all 41 arrests and associated charges from the 2022 iteration of the event.
His city manager, Terry McGean echoed that sentiment telling the Herald, “There was no way to predict what was going to happen.”
Since the events Sept. 24, two drivers have been lodged in the Cape May County Correctional Facility because of the accidents. Wildwood Police Chief Robert Regalbuto said the public should expect more arrests. 
Regalbuto was asked to address the crowd but said he was prevented from discussing the H2oi rally because of the ongoing investigation initiated by the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office. 
The police chief did say there was a plan in place to deal with the unsanctioned car rally, but there were few questions directed to Regalbuto. Most were directed at the commissioners.
One resident wanted to know what kind of pressure the commissioners have put on the governor and Attorney General to allow the municipality to crack down on people who come to town and break the law.
Another resident asked if the police department had the authority to impound the cars as they come into town.
“No,” Regalbuto said. 
Ryan Troiano, a Wildwood firefighter, alternated taking playful jabs at the police chief and demanding action from the commissioners. 
“You’ve got to take the handcuffs off the police and put them on the criminals,” Troiano said.  
Troiano was referring to what some have described as a lenient attitude toward lawbreakers in Trenton. Those frustrations come from restrictions placed on law enforcement in recent years. 
Byron said the city has been in contact with officials in Ocean City, Maryland, and had a long discussion regarding what that city has done to correct the problem of pop-up rallies. Byron said Ocean City agreed to send copies of legislation the State of Maryland passed to aid municipalities in combating the pop-up rally problem.
Byron said he has spoken to State Sen. Michael Testa regarding coming up with similar legislation in New Jersey. Commissioner Steve Mikulski added that the city solicitor has reached out to the county prosecutor’s office and solicitors in surrounding communities to discuss how to combat the problem. 
Thoughts? Email csouth@cmcherald.com or call 609-886-8600 ext. 128.

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