Federal agency says Cowboys' practice facility should have held up

DALLAS -- The Dallas Cowboys' practice facility collapsed last May in winds it should have been able to withstand, according to a report released Tuesday by a federal agency that investigated the accident that injured a dozen people.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology said the steel and fabric building fell during a May 2 thunderstorm in the Dallas suburb of Irving during winds of 55 mph to 65 mph, far less than the 90 mph wind speed specified by engineering standards for that location.

"Our investigation found that the facility collapsed under a wind load that a building of this type should have been able to withstand," said John Gross, who led the agency's review.

As part of its report, the agency recommended that fabric-covered structures in general be evaluated for their ability to hold up under windy conditions. Besides serving as practice facilities for professional and college football teams, such buildings are widely used as casinos, warehouses and military facilities.

The collapse of the Cowboys' 88,000-square-foot structure left team scouting assistant Rich Behm paralyzed from the waist down and 11 others less severely injured. Behm and Cowboys special teams coach Joe DeCamillas, who suffered a broken vertebrae, are suing the building's manufacturer, Summit Structures LLC, and others associated with the project.

Tom Fee, a Dallas attorney who is representing Summit in the lawsuit, said he couldn't immediately comment on the report. Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple said the team had no comment.

The building was erected in 2003 and modified with a new fabric covering and additional structural reinforcement in 2008.

The report by the agency, a non-regulatory arm of the Commerce Department, was the work of a team of structural engineers who visited the scene shortly after the accident and later constructed a model of the ruined building.

Among the issues raised in the report is Summit Structure's "assumption" that the roof fabric could provide support for the frame.

"Of particular concern, fabric material is susceptible to tearing due to wind-born debris during storms," the report states.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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