NFC East: Cowboys building collapse

The terrifying story at Valley Ranch

May, 5, 2009
5/05/09
10:45
AM ET
 
  AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
  The Dallas Cowboys' practice field bubble lies on the ground after it collapsed following a storm in Irving, Texas, on Saturday.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

IRVING, Texas -- As the skies over the Dallas Cowboys' Valley Ranch headquarters grew ominous Saturday afternoon, the obvious decision was to hold practice indoors. As is the custom during a rookie minicamp or any other practice, a member of the Cowboys' public relations staff escorted reporters past the outdoor practice fields toward the club's 80,000-square-foot indoor facility, where players and coaches had already gathered.

There was no indication that in less than an hour, many of them would be fearing for their lives. What follows is an attempt to piece together what happened in those chaotic moments after winds of up to 70 mph treated an enormous structure as if it were a toy. In conversations with reporters, video journalists and members of the Cowboys' organization, we've tried to reconstruct some of Saturday's events. Because club employees have been told not to speak to the media, they've been granted anonymity for this story.

Cowboys Facility Collapse
• VIDEO: Footage from collapse
• PHOTOS: The collapse

At about 3:15 p.m. local time Saturday, heavy rains began pounding the fabric-covered indoor facility at Valley Ranch. People who are used to being in the facility during rainstorms immediately recognized a louder roar than usual. A group of reporters and cameramen from four local TV affiliates was in its normal position near the south end zone while players went through team drills. As the rain continued to pelt the facility, Todd Archer of The Dallas Morning News remarked to public relations assistant Jancy Briles, "I wonder what this thing's wind resistance is?"

In a few moments, he would have his answer. The first major sign of trouble was the violent swaying of lights high above the field. At that moment, several people in the building became concerned that one of the lights -- about 3 to 4 feet in diameter -- might drop on a player or coach. Fox 4 cameraman Larry Rodriguez looked up and spotted Cowboys videographer Sam Cromley 40 feet above the field on a hydraulic lift.

"Sam's platform was waving back and forth like a flag," Rodriguez said. "And pretty soon after that, the whole building started to shake. It felt like you were in a ship."

The team's director of videography, Robert Blackwell, ordered Cromley to come down, but it was too late. As the roof and walls began to fold like an accordion, Cromley remained on the platform and basically rode it down to the ground. In some of the video footage captured by local TV affiliates, you can hear Cowboys assistant linebackers coach Dat Nguyen yelling, "Sam, Sam, Sam" as he rushed over to help Cromley escape from underneath the facility's vinyl covering.

Nearby, one offensive lineman could be seen wrapping his arms and legs around one of the few poles that hadn't fallen. He apparently thought a tornado had hit the building, and he was holding on for dear life. For some, the most haunting thing was the initial sound they heard when the building began to implode.

"To me, it sounded like bubble wrap," said Rodriguez, who suffered a laceration on his hand that required nine stitches. "You could just hear everything popping and snapping around you."

(Read full post)

Tragedy in Dallas

May, 3, 2009
5/03/09
9:51
PM ET
 
  AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
 

A Dallas scouting assistant was paralyzed from the waist down after he was injured during the collapse of the team's practice facility Saturday.  

Here's some dramatic, uncut video of the collapse of the Cowboys' practice facility from WFAA-TV in Dallas.

 And here are some more photos from dallasnews.com.

Sad news in Dallas

May, 3, 2009
5/03/09
8:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com Matt Mosley

Cowboys scouting assistant Rich Behm suffered permanent paralysis from the waist down in the collapse of the team's practice facility Saturday.

The team released this statement:

"To the Behm family we extend our love, comfort, and the full support of every person and resource within the organization," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "Rich is a courageous member of our family and someone for whom we care deeply. We ask for all friends and fans of the Dallas Cowboys to join us in embracing him and his family with their thoughts and prayers at this very difficult time."

I've known Rich and his brother, Chris, since I started covering the Cowboys in 2003. Rich, 33, was a vital part of the team's videography department before recently becoming a scouting assistant. He put his video skills to work in splicing film of college players across the nation and played a valuable role in preparing for the '09 draft. He and Chris, who works in the club's TV department, are constantly at Valley Ranch. They might as well be on the roster because players such as Terence Newman and Tony Romo hung out with them all the time. In fact, Romo was one of the first players to show up at the hospital Sunday.

This is obviously a huge shock to the Behm family, but I've been told that Rich is already showing a remarkable amount of optimism in his Dallas hospital room. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and head coach Wade Phillips were seen in the waiting room late Saturday night and Jones returned Sunday morning.

Behm is father of two boys (8 and 6) and a baby girl. It's unfathomable that he could've arrived at work Saturday morning just like so many other days and had his life altered forever. Every time I pass him in the halls of Valley Ranch, he always has a quip ready about something ridiculous I've written or said on the radio. I know it will be a long haul, but I'm looking forward to seeing him back on the job.

Jones surveys the damage

May, 3, 2009
5/03/09
3:51
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is normally on the scene for all minicamp practices, but he'd slipped away to Louisivlle for the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. He cut his trip short Saturday and flew back to Dallas. And on Sunday morning, he stopped by Valley Ranch to survey the collapsed roof of his practice facility.

"Jones walked the length of the facility by himself, hands in his jean pockets, grimly inspecting what was left after a microburst with 60-70 mph winds demolished the facility about 3:30 p.m. Saturday, sending 12 people to the hospital," writes Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News.

I'm a little surprised that Jones hasn't held a news conference yet to address Saturday's events. We heard from fire and police officials in Irving on Saturday, but Jones hasn't made a public appearance. Perhaps he'd like to figure out exactly what happened before he starts fielding a lot of questions. 

Zorn talks to players about Cowboys' roof collapse

May, 3, 2009
5/03/09
3:11
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

One of the league's most intense rivalries didn't prevent Redskins coach Jim Zorn from addressing the roof collapse that occurred at the Cowboys' practice facility Saturday. After the Redskins' final minicamp session Sunday, Zorn spoke with reporters about what he told his team:

"I asked our guys, 'If you're a praying man, really remember those guys.' What a tragedy that is. How unpredictable that must be. Fortunately, they didn't have 115 guys in that bubble at that time because there might have been a lot more injuries. So we're thankful that there were very few."

If this had been a full-roster minicamp, there would've been somewhere in the neighborhood of 125 people in the building. I've watched a lot of the video and it's still remarkable there weren't more injuries. And to echo Zorn, a great guy named Rich Behm who works in the club's scouting department could really use your prayers right now. He underwent spinal cord surgery late last night at Parkland Memorial Hospital and a lot of folks are pulling for him. 

Update on the roof collapse, quick note on Orakpo

May, 3, 2009
5/03/09
2:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Beginning at 5 p.m. ET on Saturday, I was supposed to visit with Redskins defensive end Brian Orakpo and Eagles first-round pick Jeremy Maclin. Of course, we called those interviews off when news broke of the Cowboys' practice bubble collapsing in Irving. As a quick update, practices at Valley Ranch were called off today. The rookies and other selected players were scheduled to meet with coaches this afternoon before returning to their respective campuses or homes.

The Redskins were gracious enough to re-schedule Orakpo for 2 p.m. ET today and I'll be visiting with Maclin at some point this week. In Dallas, you can't go anywhere without people talking about the roof collapse. At church this morning, lots of prayers were going out to people affected by the situation.

Here's what I know on the injuries: Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis was set to undergo surgery for two broken verterbrae, but the prognosis is good. Cowboys assistant scout Rich Behm underwent surgery on his spinal cord late last night at Parkland Memorial Hospital and I'm not sure about his condition.

I'm told that head coach Wade Phillips and owner Jerry Jones were both with Behm's family at the hospital Saturday night. We'll keep you updated throughout the afternoon.

Scary day for Cowboys

May, 3, 2009
5/03/09
1:59
PM ET

Surreal scene at Valley Ranch after roof collapses

May, 2, 2009
5/02/09
10:21
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

IRVING, Texas -- It was easy to tell the survivors from the onlookers Saturday afternoon at the Cowboys' practice facility. Even an hour and a half after 64 mph winds ripped the club's practice facility to shreds at 3:27 p.m. local time, some of the reporters who'd been inside the facility when the storm arrived had shell-shocked looks on their faces.

I had been at Saturday's morning practice and subsequent interview session, but wasn't attending the afternoon workout. When I returned to Valley Ranch at about 4:30 p.m., there were fire trucks and police cars everywhere. Gawkers were walking up and down the street taking pictures of the area where the practice bubble once sat. If you've ever driven through the area surrounding Valley Ranch, you know how prominent the structure was. It was 85 feet tall and it took up 80,000 square feet. The practice bubble looked like a gigantic white tent, and I can remember thinking how unnatural it looked in the neighborhood when it opened in the summer of 2003.

The morning practice had been held outside, but with dark clouds forming, the Cowboys held the afternoon session indoors. According to people I talked to at the scene, the first sign of trouble was when the light fixtures atop the facility started swaying violently. And then the entire building began to shake back and forth. By the time people started racing for the exits, the structure was already crumbling.

My former colleague at the Dallas Morning News, Todd Archer, was trapped in one of the doorways. Here's his account of what happened. He credits former Texas Tech defensive end Brandon Williams and Cincinnati safety DeAngelo Smith for lifting the door frame so that he could escape the building. Nick Eatman of Dallascowboys.com attempted to help Archer, but said it was like "lifting a car."

The Cowboys didn't reveal the names of the 12 people injured in the collapse, but I've confirmed that special teams coach Joe DeCamillis was transported to a local hospital for a possible neck injury. I'm also told that assistant secondary coach Brett Maxie suffered a laceration on his leg that required stitches. As I left the building Saturday night, a longtime cameraman for the local Fox affiliate, Larry Rodriguez, was about to receive treatment for a gash in his hand.

"I reached up to try and block a beam that was falling on me," he said. "But then I realized that wasn't a wise move."

Most of the reporters who were inside the building during its collapse appeared to have minor cuts and bruises. It created a surreal scene in which the reporters were being interviewed by other reporters. I reached one of the rookies by cell phone this evening, but he said players had been instructed not to talk about the situation.

In some of the TV footage following the collapse, you could see guard Greg Isdaner, a free-agent rookie out of West Virginia, holding onto a pole inside the practice bubble with a look of sheer terror on his face. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips attempted to direct emergency crews to three people who were trapped underneath the debris.

I walked out toward the practice bubble at about 6 p.m. local time Saturday and couldn't believe the sight. As one reporter who was inside the building said, "It's like a bear ripped up a tent."

When you look at the destruction, it's hard to imagine how everyone survived. It's not like a couple of steel poles fell down. Pretty much the entire framework came tumbling down. I shudder to think what the result would've been if this were a full-roster minicamp. The head of emergency services in Dallas County, Dr. Paul Pepe, said there were only three "serious" injuries and that none of them were life-threatening. And according to the latest report from the Star-Telegram, only one person will have to stay in the hospital overnight.

Team spokesman Rich Dalrymple said owner Jerry Jones had cut his trip to the Kentucky Derby short and was flying home Saturday night. The players participating in this weekend's minicamp are expected to hold meetings Sunday, but they probably won't practice. We'll obviously keep you posted on any new developments.

Update: As of 12:08 a.m. ET, a Cowboys scout named Rich Behm is undergoing surgery on his spinal cord at a Dallas hospital, according to a source close to the family. DeCamillis, who is former NFL head coach Dan Reeves' son-in-law, has two broken vertebrae, according to sources.

Update 2: Very sad news Sunday night. Word is out that Behm is paralyzed from the waist down.

Several injuries reported in Cowboys roof collapse

May, 2, 2009
5/02/09
5:50
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

This report in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram provides some more details on the collapse of the air-supported practice bubble at the Dallas Cowboys' practice facility. The collapse occured at about 4:30 p.m. ET after a severe thunderstorm hit the area. Mac Engel, Cowboys beat writer for the Star-Telegram, is reporting that there were no fatalities, which of course is tremendous news. Here's how he described what took place Saturday afternoon:

"As the team went through drills and practices, the wind was so intense that the lights from high above began to sway violently for about two minutes. Outside, a portable toilet was blown down and effectively blocked one of the exit doors.

"With the winds outside howling, one end of the building began to shake and the structure began to shudder and creak before it collapsed. At that point, players, coaches, scouts and members of the media hurriedly ran over anything to get out from underneath the collapsing structure.

"Those located on or near the sidelines had the best chance for a safer escape. Those in the middle of the field had a much more difficult time getting out. About three minutes later when the storm blew over, players and coaches were trying to help other team and staff members get out from under the building.

"Everyone inside the structure at the time was visibly shaken and frightened. Cowboys coach Wade Phillips was trying to direct emergency crews to at least three people who were trapped."

I just talked to one of the rookie's mothers via phone, and she's obviously very relieved right now. Someone on the scene told me that players and coaches raced back into the facility to try and locate people that may have been trapped. OK, I'll have some scene reports in a little while.

 

Cowboys' indoor facility collapses

May, 2, 2009
5/02/09
5:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

An air-supported practice bubble at the Cowboys' Valley Ranch headquarters collapsed this afternoon while players and coaches were conducting a rookie minicamp. A Cowboys spokesman has told The Dallas Morning News that four members of the club's support staff have been transported to a local hospital, but no serious injuries have been reported. The local CBS affiliate (KTVT 11) had talked to assistant coach Brett Maxie, who had a gash in his leg that he apparently suffered during the roof collapse. 

I had attended the morning practice session and the open locker room period, but didn't stick around for the second practice. A severe thunderstorm hit the area about an hour ago, and that's apparently what caused the collapse. I'm on my way to Valley Ranch as we speak and will try to provide more details as they emerge. Here's the latest report from the scene via the Morning News' blog. 

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