SEATTLE — A van smashed through the wall of a local business and set it on fire Wednesday. It’s the second crash on the West Seattle Health Club property in recent months.
Management for the club says the problems are coming from a group of residents who live in RVs near the club on Southwest Andover Street. Now they’re calling the latest crash, the last straw – and they’re calling on the city for answers.
The Seattle Fire Department said what crashed through the wall of the West Seattle Health Club was a 15-passenger van.
“Came through our building as you can see, and ruptured a natural gas line and started a pretty big fire,” said Dan Lehr, vice president of operations for the health club.
Photos from the inside pool room show the nose of the vehicle dangling and the wall's insulation on full display.
“You see just how close they came to going off the ledge and completely into the pool area,” Lehr said, pointing to a gaping hole in the wall.
The fire department said the 1 a.m. crash led to a gas leak and fire, causing about $300,000 in damage to the club.
“My daughter comes with me when I work here, she takes swim lessons here so thankfully no one was hurt last night,” said Courtney Weeks, who teaches at the club.
The driver of the van and anyone else inside ran away.
The Seattle Police Department is calling the crash a felony hit-and-run based on how much damage it caused.
The club tells me it's familiar with the bright blue van.
“We have a big RV problem out here, and I have seen that RV parked out here,” Lehr said.
He said the van was parked nearby for about two months and he noticed the van's interior
had been converted into a living space.
"It's gotten really bad the past year, it varies anywhere from six to eight (RVs). Occasionally we're able to get one or two towed and they come right back, so it's really frustrating," Lehr said.
In fact Lehr said the crash isn't the first on their property.
“We had a crash a month ago and it plowed through our parking lot,” Lehr said. He sent KIRO7 photos that show the debris from the aftermath.
Fortunately, no one was hurt in that crash either.
“We’ve lucked out twice -- I'm just hoping nobody gets killed because it’s really getting to that point now,” Lehr said.
However, he said the health club is also experiencing other problems that many Seattle businesses have struggled with.
“Throwing their garbage and dumping their holding tanks out in the streets, drug activity has gone up so the theft in our parking lot has picked up as well,” Lehr said. “It's becoming a really big problem and it's really affecting our business,” he said.
People who work at the club also say they've been impacted.
“ I“I don't like parking on that side, it makes me feel uncomfortable,” Weeks said. “I never, never leave anything in my car now,” she said.
Weeks said she’s had her car window broken and car looted, but wasn’t sure if the crime was connected with the homeless population nearby.
KIRO7’s Deedee Sun reached out to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan's office to ask what specifically the city is doing to address RV campsites.
Durkan recently made several recent trips to California to learn from leaders there how to better fight homelessness -- talking with San Diego’s mayor about RV camping specifically.
But after asking her office about potential solutions, Durkan’s office never responded with an answer.
The West Seattle Health Club said the latest crash and fire is the “end of the line,” and Lehr said he’s proposed a solution to the mayor's office.
“They sounded pretty receptive,” Lehr said “We talked about changing the parking to no overnight parking, that's the cheapest solution. But hopefully we'll get something going there. I'm not going to stop until something is done. Enough is enough, we've had it,” Lehr said.
The mayor's office would only confirm that its front desk took a call from the club this morning around 11:30 a.m.
It will take several weeks for the club to repair the damage and for the pool to re-open.
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