DALLAS -- The company that designed and built the ill-fated Dallas Cowboys' practice facility knew long before the giant, tent-like structure collapsed three years ago that it was in danger of falling and concealed the problem, company documents obtained by The Associated Press reveal.
The emails, handwritten notes and other documents, which have not been released publicly, indicate that Summit Structures LLC knew far more about the perilous condition of the facility than has been reported and raise fresh questions about similar steel and fabric structures erected by the now-defunct Allentown, Pa., company.
"The deeper we dig into it, the worse it appears to get," an engineering consultant hired by Summit wrote in an email to company executives in April 2008, 13 months before the collapse.
The facility toppled spectacularly in a sudden wind storm as the Cowboys conducted a rookie minicamp in May 2009. Falling debris severed the spinal cord of team scout Rich Behm, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down, and broke special teams coach Joe DeCamillis' neck. Ten other people were less seriously injured.
The documents reveal that Summit knew the facility was prone to buckling and planned to provide the Cowboys, who had complained about the building's structural integrity, with engineering calculations that would hide the defect.
Summit replaced the facility's fabric cover and made some structural repairs in May 2008. But the federal agency that investigated the disaster found that the repairs were minor and inadequate for reinforcing the frame.
The documents also indicate that the Cowboys accepted Summit's repairs without making the company's calculations available to an expert the team had hired to review the work.
Frank Branson, the attorney for Behm and DeCamillis, said the fact that Summit appears to have known the building could collapse a year before the accident makes his clients' injuries even more inexcusable.
Behm and DeCamillis received $24 million from Summit's Canadian parent, Cover-All Building Systems, and another $10 million in cash and other considerations from companies controlled by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to settle lawsuits.
The documents show the Cowboys began questioning the facility's structural integrity in 2007, four years after it was built, and wanted their engineering expert to be apprised of what was being done to rectify the problem.
Summit was told by its own engineering firm that the frame was overstressed, but the company did not want that information to get to the Cowboys or their expert, Charles Timbie, according to the documents.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press