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OSHA begins investigation of Cowboys facility collapse

Firefighters investigate the collapsed canopy that covered the Dallas Cowboys indoor football facility in Irving, Texas, on Saturday, May 2, 2009. Four Cowboys staff members were injured when the roof collapsed on Saturday. Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple said all of the players and coaches were accounted for, and he didn't know the extent of the injuries to the four staff members who were hospitalized. AP Photo/Matt Slocum

Firefighters investigate the collapsed canopy that covered the Dallas Cowboys indoor football facility in Irving, Texas, on Saturday, May 2, 2009. Four Cowboys staff members were injured when the roof collapsed on Saturday. Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple said all of the players and coaches were accounted for, and he didn't know the extent of the injuries to the four staff members who were hospitalized. AP Photo/Matt Slocum

Danny Robbins
AP Writer

Irving, TX — Government investigators began sorting through the Dallas Cowboys‘ flattened practice facility Monday, trying to figure out why fierce winds sent the tentlike structure crashing down during a rookie workout session.

Twelve people were hurt, including Cowboys special teams coach Joe DeCamillis, who underwent surgery Monday to stabilize a fractured vertebrae in his neck. 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. Assistant athletic trainer Greg Gaither, 35, had surgery on his fractured right leg. Both DeCamillis and Gaither are expected to get out of the hospital this week.

Inspectors were at the collapse site Monday, said Elizabeth Todd, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA, which investigates workplace accidents, has six months to make a report, she said.

Records show the city of Irving granted the Cowboys’ request to replace the fabric roof last year, five years after the structure was built. The team listed itself as the contractor for the roof replacement. Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple said the team would not comment about the work.

The records do not show the Cowboys sought an inspection of the facility after replacing the roof, although city code requires it, according to Gary Miller, Irving’s director of planning and inspections.

“In a perfect world, there’s some report from an installation company or an engineer in there, but we don’t have it,” Miller said.

The company that built the facility — Summit Structures LLC of Allentown, Pa. — issued a statement that said proper engineering was used during the original construction and the installation of the new roof.

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 so far about precisely what happened.

About 70 people, including 27 players at a rookie minicamp, were inside when the storm hit. Winds were clocked at 64 mph, 1 mph shy of the threshold for a weak tornado. A “microburst” may have pushed the wind beyond 70 mph at the top of the structure, National Weather Service officials said

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

None of the players were hurt. Coaches, support staff and media were also in the no-frills building, 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 for at least a week because of ongoing work that is scheduled to take place in the aftermath of the accident.

Summit lists on its Web site several other facilities it built, including one at Texas A&M and one for the New England Patriots. The company also built the Windstar Casino just across the Texas-Oklahoma border.

Stacey James, Patriots’ executive director of media relations, said in an e-mail the Patriots were “reviewing all aspects of the facility.”

The A&M facility is a $35.6 million project that includes a football practice facility and an indoor track. A&M athletic director Bill Byrne said the school has had no problems with the project, completed late last year, but will re-evaluate its policy on bad weather practices considering the collapse in Irving.

“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.”

Stephen Hawkins, Jimmy Golen and Terry Wallace contributed to this report.

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