McKnight Road property owners knew of pipe condition

Inspection done in 2012 in area of large sinkhole

The underground pipe collapse Tuesday that caused a massive sinkhole to form along McKnight Road in Ross, swallowing a car, should not have come as a great surprise.

Township officials had the pipe inspected with a closed-circuit camera two years ago and shared the results with private property owners who are responsible for maintaining it, said township manager Douglas Sample.

“There were sections in very deteriorated condition,” he said of the pipe, which stretches for nearly 3 miles through the busy commercial district, from just north of the Shoppes at Northway to the Babcock Boulevard interchange near the township line. The tin pipe ranges in diameter from 48 to 60 inches and captures storm water.

The collapse occurred in front of Hollywood Tans, 7599 McKnight Road, about 4 p.m., after a rainstorm. Natalie Huddleston, 49, of Shaler, was trying to back her car out of a parking space when the sinkhole opened, slowly swallowing the car and forcing her to call the salon owner for help in getting out of the vehicle.

Although the collapse caused temporary traffic restrictions on the southbound side of McKnight, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said the roadway was not damaged and all lanes were open Wednesday. PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan said the department would continue to monitor the situation.

A contractor, Independent Enterprises, was on site Wednesday clearing material from the hole to gain access to the collapsed pipe about 15 feet below the surface. A foreman, who identified himself as David but would not give his last name, said replacement of the collapsed pipe would take at least a week.

Sinkhole location

According to Allegheny County property records, the parcel is owned by RGB North LLC, a company whose listed address is a private residence in McCandless that is owned by Ghassan Bejjani, a neurosurgeon, and his wife, Rita G. Rizkallah. Dr. Bejjani could not be reached on Wednesday but through an intermediary denied that he owns the property.

Two businesses — the tanning salon and B&J Nails & Spa next door — remained closed, their gas and water shut off. But it was business as usual at two neighboring stores, a Midas muffler shop and Today’s Home furniture store.

Jeff Lenchner, president of Today’s Home, said his company spent $77,000 to repair the pipe under its property immediately after learning from the township about potential problems. A contractor installed a 6-inch concrete liner that made the pipe virtually indestructible, he said, and was able to do so without digging up the parking lot.

“The township was incredibly professional about notifying business owners,” he said. “Most business owners responded quickly and professionally.”

Mr. Sample said the township had the pipe inspected in 2012 as a courtesy to property owners, some of whom have since made repairs or replaced their sections. Letters went out to the owners advising them of the inspection and they were invited to a meeting to see the camera footage and inspection report.

“The owners along McKnight knew the condition of that line,” he said, adding that he did not know what steps the township might take with property owners who have not made repairs. He said the matter was likely to be discussed by commissioners at their meeting Monday.

“It’s a private property matter,” he said. “All of the property owners along McKnight are well aware of this now and can see the danger.”

Jon Schmitz: or 412-263-1868. Twitter: @pgtraffic.

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