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Engineer in Cowboys disaster paying $12,000 fine

DALLAS (AP) - The engineer who signed off on plans for the tent-like Dallas Cowboys practice facility that collapsed and seriously injured two team employees three years ago is paying a $12,000 fine to settle faulty design charges from the Texas Board of Professional Engineers.

Enrique Tabak entered into an agreement with the board to pay an administrative penalty of $12,040 last August, and the Canadian engineer has been making quarterly payments that are due to end in June, records show.

The board began investigating Tabak shortly after the 88,000-square-foot facility, covered by canvas and braced by steel, collapsed in a wind storm during a rookie minicamp in May 2009. Cowboys special teams coach Joe DeCamillis suffered a broken vertebrae and scout Rich Behm was paralyzed from the waist down as result of falling debris.

Board executive director Lance Kinney said the fine is one of the largest handed out by the agency in recent years.

"This isn't just another jaywalking-type thing," he said. "It's a significant fine for us."

Greg Marks, an attorney for Behm and DeCamillis, said the amount is woefully inadequate in light of what occurred.

"Twelve thousand dollars wouldn't even pay for the first day of Rich Behm's hospitalization when his spine was snapped like a toothpick," Marks said.

Tabak, who lives in Toronto, did not respond to messages from The Associated Press.

In the consent order in which he agreed to the fine, Tabak neither admitted nor denied allegations that numerous elements in the plans for the building didn't comply with engineering standards. The allegations were developed for the board by W. Gene Corley of Skokie, Ill., a structural engineer who led investigations into the World Trade Center attack and the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.

"It appears that (Tabak) signed and sealed design plans for the facility that were not prepared in a careful and diligent manner," the order states.

Tabak could have contested the fine in a hearing in front of an administrative law judge but chose not to.

Kinney said Tabak's fine was calculated based on a formula that assigns values to various violations of engineering standards. The maximum for any violation is $3,000, he said.

Kinney said the board's strongest form of punishment is revocation of a license, but that wasn't available in this case because Tabak is no longer licensed or practicing in Texas.

Tabak prepared the plans in June 2003 while working for Summit Structures LLC of Allentown, Pa., a subsidiary of Canadian company Cover-All Building Systems Inc.

Cover-All was dissolved after filing for bankruptcy in March 2010. The filing included an acknowledgement from the firm's president and chief executive, Nathan Stobbe, that "potential engineering issues" made one style of the company's buildings "susceptible to collapse" in certain weather conditions, including strong winds or heavy snow.

In a July 2010 letter to the board, Tabak defended his calculations for the Cowboys facility. He also noted how the severity of the storm factored into the disaster.

"This is not a pretext, just a call for consideration that major nature forces caused this terrible event," Tabak wrote.

In a report released in October 2009, the National Institute of Standards and Technology said the winds that struck the facility ranged from 55 to 65 mph. That's far less than the 90-mph wind speed specified by engineering standards, the government agency said.

Marks said Tabak's failure to take responsibility for the accident is galling because so many engineers have criticized his work.

"Other than Mr. Tabak, I have not found a single engineer to say his calculations are correct," said Marks, who holds a degree in structural engineering from Texas A&M. "And it wasn't just slight error, it was gross error."

Behm and DeCamillis received a total of $24 million from Cover-All and another $10 million from companies controlled by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to settle lawsuits stemming from the accident.

They have also sued a Las Vegas engineer, Scott Jacobs, who had responsibility for repairing the building in 2008. That suit remains unsettled.

Kinney confirmed that the board is investigating Jacobs but declined to discuss that inquiry because it's incomplete.

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