2 injured when car falls into sinkhole

Mother, daughter rescued near Owings Mills Mall

Pair released from hospital

April 29, 2004|By Julie Bykowicz and Hanah Cho | Julie Bykowicz and Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

A mother and daughter were injured yesterday afternoon when their car plunged into a two-story-deep sinkhole that formed on an entrance road to Owings Mills Mall.

The women were trapped in the vehicle about an hour before Baltimore County firefighters were able to free them, a Fire Department spokesman said. Five firefighters descended into the muddy hole -- about 20 feet deep, 20 feet long and 30 feet wide -- and sawed open the windshield of the crumpled car, authorities said.

The women -- identified by police as Darlene Grace Tuck, 51, and Glennis Renee Tuck-Webb, 33 -- were conscious as they were carefully lifted to safety, one at a time.

"They were just glad to come out of the hole," said Capt. Kevin Wallett of the Owings Mills Volunteer Fire Company, the first to the scene.

The two were flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center and were released last night, a hospital spokeswoman said. They declined to comment through family members.

Earlier, a family friend reported that the women were in neck braces and in pain but were doing well.

"I'm thankful they weren't injured worse," said the friend, 47-year-old Jerry Hughes, who later helped Tuck out of a car at her home just after 9 p.m. yesterday as she returned there with her daughter.

A confluence of three underground pipes leading to a nearby storm-water management pond is likely to have played a role in the sinkhole's formation, said Baltimore County Public Works Director Edward C. Adams Jr.

The road and pipes were privately constructed and maintained, Adams said. Officials with the Rouse Co., parent company of Owings Mills Mall, said ownership of the road is not clear.

"We're not sure where the boundary lines are," said Cathie Bryant, a Rouse Co. vice president.

Concrete jersey walls blocked the road leading to the sinkhole last night, and Bryant said private security will watch it overnight.

A Rouse Co. crew was expected to begin assessing the sinkhole this morning. Rouse Co. officials said it was "too early to speculate" about who bears responsibility for the accident.

"Our concern is the welfare of the car's occupants," said Steve Crumrine, director of corporate security for the Rouse Co.

Darlene Tuck and her daughter go out to lunch together every two weeks -- often at Owings Mills Mall, which isn't far from Tuck's two-story home on Winlee Road in Randallstown, said Hughes, the family friend. Tuck-Webb, a mother of two, lives in Baltimore, Hughes said, although police gave an address for her in Randallstown.

"They have a close relationship, like the average mother and daughter," said Hughes, who answered Tuck's door last night.

He said Tuck's mother had been calling him and other friends of the family with frequent updates on the women's condition.

Dozens of mall employees and patrons, and workers in nearby buildings stood in awe of the sinkhole, first as rescue workers pulled the women to safety and later as a crew fished the mangled car from its depths.

"I can't imagine what could have caused this," said Chuck Schoppert, who works in a building near the mall. "When I drove by not even a week ago, that road was just as smooth as could be."

But all was not well just before the sinkhole opened, several drivers reported.

Kim Friedman of Westminster, who drove to the mall yesterday afternoon with her 22-month-old nephew, said she noticed that the road seemed to have buckled. She described the gap as the size of an inverted speed bump but said she didn't think twice about it as she drove her car over it.

That was 12:45 p.m., she estimated. The Baltimore County Fire Department got its first calls about the accident at 12:52 p.m.

It was not clear last night whether Tuck's Oldsmobile was swallowed by the sinkhole or it drove into an already-formed pit at the entrance road between Red Run Boulevard and Mill Run Circle.

The pale-blue Oldsmobile carrying the two women -- mother behind the wheel and daughter in the front passenger's seat, according to police -- crashed to the bottom of the sinkhole, landing on its side and causing both airbags to open.

In the moments before firefighters arrived, two men apparently climbed into the hole to try to help the women, said fire spokesman Lt. Vernon Adamson. Those men realized there was nothing they could do and climbed back out as emergency workers arrived, he said.

Wallett, one of the first firefighters on the scene, said he used ropes and ladders to secure the sides of the hole before sending firefighters in. A firefighter for 20 years, he said he'd never seen anything like the hole in the middle of the road.

"My main concern was to get them out of the hole," he said. "It was an unstable atmosphere."

Adamson, the fire spokesman, said rescue workers later learned that more than 13,000 volts of electricity coursed through feeder lines just under the car.

"That really could have made for a nasty rescue," he said.

During the rescue, most entrances to the mall were closed, but the mall stayed open, said Charles Crerand, the mall's vice president and general manager.

Sinkholes are typically caused by the erosion of underground limestone deposits, but based on the Owings Mills area's rock formations and lack of previous sinkholes, the pipes are the likely cause of yesterday's problem, said Adams, the county's public works director.

Maryland Geological Survey experts have identified more than 1,200 sinkholes in the Frederick area, where an ancient sea left limestone rock formations.

A decade ago, a Westminster city employee was killed when a 45-foot-wide, 18-foot-deep sinkhole appeared on Route 31 in Carroll County.

Sun staff writers Andrew A. Green and Laurie Willis, and Todd Beamon of baltimoresun.com contributed to this article.

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