Cop-Filled Waze Screenshot From This Weekend's Unauthorized H2Oi Car Meet Pretty Much Sums It Up
277 arrests. 345 vehicles towed. One ill-advised weekend.
Even If you're a not a water-cooled Volkswagen enthusiast, you've almost definitely heard of H2Oi. The VW show, which was formerly hosted just outside of Maryland's Ocean City until 2018, has a long history as one of the most anticipated events of the season—in no small part because of the accompanying rolling tuner car-meet-slash-party that sweeps through the barrier island's streets like a tsunami for a weekend every year. Cue the tickets.
Local authorities have tried different ways of dissuading people from showing up and making trouble, and over the years they've settled mainly on a strategy of ticketing the unsanctioned event to death, with illegally modified cars making obvious targets. After last year's chaos, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan vowed to put an end to "unofficial H2Oi" and make 2020 the toughest year for enforcement on record.
And like clockwork, pandemic be damned, thousands of drivers once again flocked to the beach town this past weekend. But a look at this Waze screenshot shows things were a little different this time. For a while.
For months, Ocean City's mayor and its police force have been warning show-goers that it planned to work with several neighboring law enforcement agencies to buffer its special events task force manpower for the coming weekend. Unsurprisingly, the department did that and by Saturday night nearly every crossroad had a Waze user reporting police presence.
Aside from the mayor and police chief both issuing several warnings throughout the year, Ocean City police made their intent known earlier last week. Reports of officers pulling over cars with even the smallest vehicle modifications—slightly lowered suspension, spacers, wheels with a tiny amount of poke—began spreading like wildfire days before the weekend's events even began.
This did deter some people from driving their modified vehicles to Ocean City; instead, some decided to rent normal cars and used them to egg on the police, like the one seen below.
For those who dared to bring their cars despite the overwhelming number of officers patrolling the streets, all bets were off. For some, getting pulled over was a game. For others, it was a badge of honor. But for the majority, it just meant paying a huge fine to a town that didn't want them to be there.
Reports of cars being impounded left and right began surfacing with some owners eating costs between $1,000 and $1,500. If a vehicle was modified in a manner deemed to be unsafe for Ocean City's roads, or if it performed an unsafe "stunt" maneuver, it could immediately be impounded.
Of course, the impound and towing costs are on top of the already-elevated fines issued by officers patrolling the streets. Each ticket lined with “Special Event Zone” charges were padded even more. For example, one show-goer racked up a $3,980 fine for a single burnout.
That's not to say officials succeeded in shutting the whole thing down. People still showed up to engage in general debauchery, and by late Saturday there were still scenes of reckless driving, large drunken crowds and men in banana costumes who would partake in the annual march of bananas. By that point, Ocean City PD had to call in a second wave of allied law enforcement to get a handle on things. OCPD issued a statement on Monday morning saying 277 people were arrested and 345 cars were impounded over the weekend. Only 85 were arrested last year despite a higher number of 911 calls overall in 2019, so clearly the police response has stepped up.
“This is not a car show and the majority of these visitors are not car enthusiasts,” Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro said. “They are here to disrupt, destroy and disrespect our community and our law enforcement officers. Our policing philosophy is to be friendly, fair and firm. Unfortunately, the disorderly behavior and unruly crowds left no choice but to shift our philosophy and take additional steps to protect our officers and our community.”
Local news reported that police attempted to mitigate issues by changing traffic patterns to intentionally create congestion and divert cars out of town. They also apparently used a "smelly" spray to move crowds away from specific areas. One officer was reportedly knocked unconscious when attempting to make an arrest.
Is H2Oi getting out of control? For sure—it has for a while now.
Every year is filled with some sort of craziness, from cars crashing into hotel stairs to officer-involved shootings. The spin-off event has simply made locals tired of the nonsense. City officials have recognized that the event is unruly and have taken more extreme steps to dissuade people from gathering in the beach town year after year, though nothing seems to deter the crowds from flocking to the city and causing mayhem—even H2Oi itself leaving the state entirely.
It's likely that the city will begin discussing more legislation and policies during the coming weeks to crack down on unsanctioned events even further. And the rogue revelers? It's not clear yet what'll stop them.
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