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Officials search for cause of canopy collapse at Cowboys' practice facility

DALLAS -- An engineer said he had limited involvement with the Dallas Cowboys training facility that collapsed during a thunderstorm and left a team employee paralyzed.

"I was there just a few months," Enrique Tabak said in a story published online by The Dallas Morning News. "They brought me in to build little farm buildings -- sheds, agricultural applications."

Tabak formerly worked for the company -- Summit Structures LLC of Allentown, Pa. -- that the Cowboys hired in 2003 to build the indoor practice facility. He was listed as the engineer responsible for its design and that of a Philadelphia building that collapsed earlier that same year. A Pennsylvania court ruled in 2006 that Summit was negligent in the design and construction of the membrane-covered building.

Tabak is now employed by a different company in Canada.

Summit is a subsidiary of a Canadian firm called Cover-All Building Systems. Both of the collapses involved a Summit specialty: large buildings with lightweight steel frames, over which fabric is tightly wrapped. Cover-All previously was known primarily for building smaller agricultural buildings in that style.

Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple wouldn't say Tuesday whether the team knew about the Philadelphia collapse when it hired Summit. He said his response to all questions related to the company would be a "blanket no comment."

Records obtained by The Associated Press 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.

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

Summit issued a statement that said proper engineering was used during the original construction and the installation of the new roof for the Cowboys' facility. 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.

City of Irving construction records list Oklahoma-based Manhattan Construction Group as the contractor for the Cowboys' facility and Summit as the structural engineer. Manhattan is the general contractor for the new Cowboys stadium that will open next season in Arlington.

Bob Bowen, Manhattan's executive vice president, said his company helped protect the outdoor practice field from damage during construction, but all the planning and other work was done by Summit.

"Looking back in hindsight, with this investigation that is under way, it has clearly caused confusion," Bowen said of the permit application. "We're not saying we didn't provide logistical support or coordinational support, but we didn't hold the contract or erect the structure."

Neil Dostie, the Manhattan employee who signed the application, could not be reached by the newspaper for comment.

On the application, Dostie listed the Richardson-based firm Halff Associates as the project's civil engineer. Halff said Tuesday that it had nothing to do with the project and did not know why its name appeared on the application.

Officials at the WinStar Casino, just across the Texas-Oklahoma border, said they planned to inspect a tent structure built by Summit, even before the Cowboys' facility collapsed. Spokeswoman Kym Koch said the inspection was planned two weeks ago but could be prioritized. Koch said the casino's tent structure is not as tall as the Cowboys' practice facility.

Twelve people were hurt in Saturday's collapse. The most seriously injured was Rich Behm, the Cowboys' 33-year-old scouting assistant, who was permanently paralyzed from the waist down after his spine was severed. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the incident.

About 70 people, including 27 players at a rookie minicamp, were inside the facility when the storm hit. A "microburst" might have pushed the wind beyond 70 mph at the top of the structure, National Weather Service officials said.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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