HUSTONVILLE — A little less than nine months after a portion of the Hustonville Haunted House collapsed onto the street below, the majority of the building came crumbling down in the middle of a heavy stretch of rain Sunday night.
"Mother nature did our job for us," Hustonville Mayor David Peyton said, referring to the city's plans to demolish the dilapidated building in the near future.
The collapse happened around 7:30 p.m. and ruptured a gas line near a corner of the building, causing an evacuation of about 50 people from nearby buildings, Peyton said.
The gas company was able to get to the scene and shut off the gas within 20 minutes, at which point people were allowed back in their homes.
It took about another 40 minutes to finish gas line repairs, at which point the Hustonville Water Department began clearing bricks from the road.
The collapse left parts of the south and east walls of the structure standing without much to hold them up, Peyton said.
The Hustonville Volunteer Fire Department used a water cannon mounted on its fire engine to knock down a portion of the east wall, which borders an adjacent building.
The two-story east wall was standing taller than the next-door one-story building and could have fallen over onto it. Firefighters used their water cannon Sunday night to knock pieces of the wall away from the adjacent building, Peyton said.
Much of the first story and a portion of the second story of the east wall were still standing this morning.
Workers for contractor Tommy Owens had begun emergency cleanup by 11 a.m. today and Peyton said the crew should be able to knock down the remainder of the south wall before the end of the day.
"If that wall comes down, it's going to destroy the neighboring property, so it's time for action," he said.
The rest of the east wall will come down at a later date, he added.
Peyton said he was called to the haunted house location at approximately 6:30 p.m. Sunday, after about 50 bricks had fallen off the side of the building.
An hour later he was called back to the scene by sirens sounding after the larger collapse.
Peyton said he believes the bout of rain Lincoln County has seen over the past few days was "too much" for the old structure.
"That proves it was an unsafe building, if all it took was a rainfall to bring it down," he said. "It could have been real bad."
Peyton said he has "eyewitness reports" that the building's owner, Paul Gray, was in the building earlier that day, but no one was in the structure when it collapsed and there were no injuries reported.
When reached by phone this afternoon, Gray declined to comment on the building's collapse and directed any further questions to his attorney, Daniel Elliott, who provided a written response about the situation.
"This is a very unfortunate situation. Mr. Gray is very relieved that no one was injured during the collapse of the haunted house," Elliott wrote. "My client is devastated that this historical structure that he had the privilege of owning is now gone. He had worked diligently to save the building but was unable to do so because of the huge financial cost of a renovation."
The west wall of the haunted house partially collapsed onto Liberty Road Feb. 15, causing officials to close a short stretch of the road.
Arguments amongst residents, city officials and Gray have plagued Hustonville since, culminating with the city taking its case to the state fire marshal and having the building declared a fire hazard.
According to City Attorney Jonathan Baker, city officials gained the legal right to remedy the fire hazard by repairing or destroying the building on Dec. 5, at the end of a 30-day waiting period, during which Gray could have appealed the marshal's ruling.
Hustonville City Council was expected to take action on the haunted house building at its January meeting. The cost of repairing the building had been estimated at more than $90,000, while Baker had estimated the cost of demolishing the building could be more than $10,000.
Peyton said now that weather has brought down the building unexpectedly, he plans to have the city bill Gray's property insurance company for the cost of cleanup, potentially leaving the city with zero cost after everything is done.
Elliott said he had no comment on the city's plan to bill Gray's insurance for the cleanup, but confirmed Gray does have the property insured.
Gray plans to continue to operate his haunted house business out of a building across the street from its original location.
Gray said last week he has been modifying the interior of his new location for the holiday season and will be offering a free "walk-through Bethlehem" the week before Christmas.
Liberty Road could be cleared of debris and re-opened to the public for the first time since the initial February collapse as soon as Thursday.