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H2Oi, Cruisin’: Officials weigh fines, other venues amid 'mayhem'

Susan Parker, [email protected] Published 6:00 a.m. ET Jan. 18, 2018 | Updated 8:32 p.m. ET Jan. 18, 2018

In the wake of problems that occurred during the 2017 H2O International and Endless Summer Cruisin' events in Ocean City, the Motor Event Task Force was created to address some of the issues that increasingly come with the resort's car-themed events.

The first meeting in December established specific areas for members to investigate, primarily ways for the town to lessen some of the immediate impact of these events.

And by impact, officials mean disrespect for both the community and law enforcement, loud noises into the wee hours of the morning, law-breaking and general mayhem and disregard for everyone in the resort.

The task force met for the second time Wednesday, Jan. 17, at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center, to solidify a strategy.

READ: Concerns over behavior at H2Oi, other car events on the agenda for Ocean City task force

MORE: H2Oi: Ocean City looks to stamp 'fun out' to regain control

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan speaks to Ocean City Police

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan speaks to Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro before The Motor Event Task Force met at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. (Photo: Staff Photo by Megan Raymond)

Primary takeaways 

  • Legislation to establish an "special events zone" designation during events, in which increased fines for traffic violations could be imposed in Ocean City during motor-themed events. Also part of the proposed legislation is the addition of automobiles to the offense known as "reckless endangerment," giving law enforcement more authority to deal with aggressive or reckless motorists, which are currently not included in the definition in Maryland. This statewide legislation will require passage in Annapolis and Gov. Larry Hogan's signature. 
  • Community coordination through condo, business and trade associations that would allow visitors to hear a coordinated, community-wide message about behavior, expectations, enforcement and consequences. This would include meetings with law enforcement to learn about specific strategies and best practices for handling some of the situations that have and could again arise during the events.
  • Coordination with the National Street Rod Association. Jim Knack, NSRA regional director for the East Coast, offered insight into the car enthusiasts' viewpoint and proposed solutions based on his experience with other events as well as those in Ocean City.
  • Venues outside Ocean City proper are being investigated as potential places to offer organized events that would keep some event participants off the streets to ease traffic flow, provide legal opportunities for burnouts and other popular but illegal activities in a safe location and spread event participants across a larger geographic area. 
Resort business owners Cole Taustin and Hale Harrison expressed concern about the idea of moving some of the events outside Ocean City.

"Some of our local people in Delmar or Georgetown, if we don't give them a reason to come, they won't come," said Taustin, who owns and operates the Embers Restaurant and BLU Crabhouse & Raw Bar in Ocean City. 

Ocean City Police Chief Ross C. Buzzuro made it clear while all the events presented certain challenges to law enforcement, the most difficult by far is H2Oi, which was officially canceled by event organizers two weeks before it was scheduled to take place in 2017. However, the event drew crowds of what he framed as hostile, law-breaking participants.

"We're hoping passage of this bill will provide us extra tools to start to turn the tide," said Buzzuro. "I'm optimistic going forward and hope to see some easing of the situation."

Buzzuro also pointed out police were already fully engaged, with all hands on deck for both the Cruisin' events as well as H2Oi. He said his officers work with other agencies like the Worcester County Sheriff's Office to make sure participants are kept under control. 

"Even if the bill passes, it may not take effect until October 2018," he pointed out...

Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, R-38C-Worcester, along with Mathias, has been working with City Solicitor Guy Ayres and Mayor Rick Meehan to prepare language for the legislation prior to its introduction as a bill in the General Assembly. 

The bill, she said, would apply statewide to any municipality wishing to designate such zones. Her intent, she said, is to leave the extent of the special event zones up to city or town leaders, to be limited in scope or encompass the entire municipality — which is what Ocean City is hoping for. 

Carozza also said she is making this bill a legislative priority this session.

Susan Jones, executive director of of the Ocean City Hotel Motel Restaurant Association, talked about having business owners and representatives meet with Ocean City police to learn about strategies to use when crowds gather near their businesses during the events. 

"Could police educate members of organizations like mine on ways to work together and respond if a situation should arise?" asked Jones. "Perhaps plan these meetings closer to the events, maybe April or mid-March?" 

Jones said this would make the information fresh while still allowing time for businesses to hire extra security, if necessary. 

Burnout remnants left behind on 30th Street in Ocean

Burnout remnants left behind on 30th Street in Ocean City, Md. after the H2Oi attendee's have left. Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. (Photo: Staff Photo by Megan Raymond)

Knack expressed his organization's support for Ocean City's efforts and pointed out that this was a good conversation because in his own 37 years of experience with similar events, he believes a united community effort is required.

"Police cannot do this alone," he said. "It has to be a community effort."

Task force member Joe Groves agreed. 

"A united 'one voice' message is important," he said, "but to achieve that, the chief needs to be ready to meet with these organizations and help organize the effort."

Task force member Gabby Mancini is a longtime Ocean City resident. He's not sold on what the task force is proposing.

Mancini's suggestion is to move the May event to April, and push the September event into October, to avoid interference with people who just come to enjoy the beach and surf. But Meehan doesn't appear interested in that idea, he said. 

Comparing Ocean City to Wildwood, New Jersey, Mancini said he's not optimistic. 

"We need changes," he said. "If we don't make changes now, we'll end up declining just the way Wildwood did."

But Meehan remains confident.

"We must not forget all the other people who do want to go out and spend money," he said, "who are not part of a car show event. They just hunker down and don't want to go out at all while all this is going on.

"Balance is key," Meehan said.

Mary Beth Carozza for State Senate