Cowboys' facility collapse under investigation

May 4, 2009 4:10:10 PM PDT
The Dallas Cowboys' special teams coach was set for surgery Monday on his fractured cervical vertebrae after the team's tentlike practice facility collapsed in fierce wind. Government inspectors were on site and began investigating the collapse, said Elizabeth Todd, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Officials with the city of Irving were examining construction and inspection paperwork regarding the $4 million structure built in 2003.

Joe DeCamillis was one of 12 people injured and three Cowboys staff members still in the hospital following Saturday's accident. The Cowboys didn't immediately return a call regarding whether surgery on the 43-year-old assistant had begun early Monday.

The most seriously injured was Rich Behm, the team's 33-year-old scouting assistant who was permanently paralyzed from the waist down after his spine was severed. Behm and assistant athletic trainer Greg Gaither, 35, remained hospitalized. Gaither had surgery on his fractured upper and lower right leg and was expected to be released this week.

The company that built the facility - Summit Structures LLC of Allentown, Pa. - said the roof had been replaced in 2008. The statement said proper engineering was used during the original construction and the installation of the new roof. Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple declined to comment on the nature of the work last summer.

Summit president Nathan Stobbe said he was in Irving on Monday, working with team and local officials to "fully assess this severe weather event." The company said it has few answers now on precisely what happened.

About 70 people, including 27 players attending a rookie minicamp, were in the structure when the storm hit. Wind in the area was clocked at 64 mph, 1 mph shy of the threshold for a weak tornado. National Weather Service officials said a "microburst" may have pushed the wind beyond 70 mph at the top of the structure that was built in 2003.

Behm, DeCamillis and Gaither were standing on the field when the $4 million structure gave way, sending debris such as the framework and lights crashing to the ground.

Most players at the minicamp were drafted the previous weekend or signed as undrafted rookies, but none was hurt. No veterans were involved. Coaches, support staff and media were also in the no-frills building, which is essentially a 100-yard football field with a few more yards of clearance all the way around. The roof was 80 feet high.

Media were restricted from the Cowboys headquarters through at least a week because of "ongoing work that is scheduled to take place in the aftermath of the accident."

OSHA investigates workplace accidents and has six months to make a report. Todd said a report could come sooner depending on the complexity of the case.

Summit lists on its Web site several other facilities it built, including one at Texas A&M and one for the New England Patriots.

A&M athletic director Bill Byrne said the school has had no problems but will reevaluate its policy on practicing in bad weather in light of this collapse.

"Our facility was put to the test this past fall when Hurricane Ike hit the Texas gulf coast," he said in a statement. "Our buildings withstood the high winds and our football team was not in the facility at that time."

A Pennsylvania court ruled in 2006 that Summit was negligent in the design and construction of a membrane-covered building that collapsed in 2003 after a major snowstorm in Philadelphia. The building was constructed for the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority.


Associated Press Writer Terry Wallace in Dallas contributed to this report.

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