Sinkhole opens near Hollywood Tans salon on McKnight Road

The owner of a local tanning salon pulled a customer through the driver's window of her car as it was being swallowed by an expanding sinkhole in the parking lot in front of the business.

Natalie Huddleston waited out a brief downpour Tuesday afternoon in Hollywood Tans, 7599 McKnight Road, before getting into her Saturn SC2.

Nothing seemed wrong, she said.

But when Ms. Huddleston, 49, of Shaler started reversing, she said she heard a "thunk" and realized the car was tilted and its wheels were spinning when she accelerated.

Within minutes, the car sank so much that her door could not be opened. She called the salon's owner who came outside, reached a hand into the vehicle and helped her out, Ms. Huddleston said.

"Then we watched the car sink, little by little," she said.

A collapsed stormwater management pipe that is either 48 or 60 inches in diameter caused the sinkhole, Ross police Det. Brian Kohlhepp said.

“Rain today caused the pipe to collapse or erosion,” he said.

Stormwater management pipes are on private property, Det. Kohlhepp said, and are therefore, businesses’ responsibilities, not that of the township or the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority. Ross has communicated the rules and concerns to businesses for several years, and some have made repaired the system, he said. Representatives from Hollywood Tans did not respond to requests for comment.

Around 4 p.m. the hole that swallowed the Saturn opened. After the ground began sinking, a smell of gas was reported in the area. Nearby businesses were evacuated and utilities were cut off at the street, the detective said.

About an hour later, a second, smaller sinkhole appeared near the neighboring BJ Nails & Spa.

Within three hours, a small bridge of asphalt and earth between the holes dissolved, creating one, gaping sinkhole that was nearly 40 feet long and 10 feet wide. The depth of the sinkhole was unclear, as it was filled with water. Ms. Huddleston’s car was completely submerged. No one was injured.

All the while, a second car remained precariously parked between the sinkhole and the salon. Chunks of dirt and rock fell from beneath the Nissan Versa and landed in the water below with a splash. For a while, it was unclear whether the Nissan would join the Saturn in the water-filled sinkhole.

But Keith McCreary, owner of McCreary Towing and Recovery, said he immediately knew he would be able to get the car out of the parking spot. He put supports under its front tires so it wouldn’t drift into the hole and swung it around using a chain.

“It’s simple geometry,” he said.

Onlookers stood in parking lots around Hollywood Tans, and people in the Adultmart parking lot across the street held their smartphones high, taking pictures of the parking lot-turned-sinkhole.

Two southbound lanes near Hollywood Tans were closed Tuesday afternoon for about two hours -- during rush hour. They reopened after a PennDOT engineer deemed the lanes safe for travel, Det. Kohlhepp said. The third southbound lane, where emergency and maintenance vehicles were parked, remained closed Tuesday night. It was unclear when that lane would reopen.

Northbound lanes hadn't closed, but were congested, especially as rubberneckers tried to catch a glimpse -- and in some cases, a photo -- of the growing sinkhole. Drivers laid on their horns, impatient with gawkers.

“I’ve managed to mess up rush hour traffic in the North Hills, Ms. Huddleton said.

She said she was stunned.

"It's a complete non seq. There is no point of reference for that in life," she said.

A friend drove her home.

(Courtesy of Dominic Abbott)

(Courtesy of Dominic Abbott)

(Courtesy of Dominic Abbott)

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