Cowboys practice facility collapses in storm

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by From Staff and Wire Reports

wfaa.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:46 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 3:03 PM

Arnold Payne / WFAA-TV
WFAA-TV photojournalist Arnold Payne captured this dramatic image as the massive structure started to collapse.

Valley Ranch Disaster

Dramatic footage of collapse

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IRVING - Cowboys special teams coach Joe DeCamillis broke his back and 11 others were injured when winds just shy of tornado strength ripped through the roof of the team's indoor practice facility during a rookie minicamp Saturday.

The National Weather Service determined that the damage was caused by a microburst - a small, intense downdraft that may have been greater than 70 mph.

Former coach Dan Reeves, DeCamillis' father-in-law, said the first-year Dallas coach has a couple of broken vertebrae in his lower back.

"They say he's lucky not to be paralyzed," said Reeves, adding that DeCamillis probably will have surgery. The coach was seen being removed on a stretcher wearing a neck brace.

No players were seriously injured in the collapse, but three other Cowboys personnel were hurt: assistant athletic trainer Greg Gaither, who suffered a broken leg; college scouting coordinator Chris Hall; whose arm was injured; and scouting assistant Rich Behm, who was in critical condition with unspecified injuries. All remained hospitalized Saturday night.

As many as 70 people were inside the tent-like structure when it collapsed, including coaches, journalists, and players. "We believe everybody is now accounted for," Irving Mayor Herbert Gears said.

DeCamillis was seen putting on a neck brace and being taken out of the team's main office building on a stretcher.

Arnold Payne / WFAA-TV
One of the injured is comforted before medical help arrives.

"I don't think we have anybody that's in a life-threatening situation," said Dr. Paul Pepe, head of emergency services for Dallas County.

"They were right in the middle of practice and they were in the middle of the field, which was not good," said WFAA-TV photojournalist Arnold Payne, who was on the sidelines of the indoor practice field when things began to go wrong. "The wind just started shaking the sides of this big huge plastic practice tent."

"The lights started swinging from the ceiling, and just like that - the thing just started collapsing," Payne said. "They could hear people under there screaming; I could see two or three people injured," Payne said.

Arnold Payne / WFAA-TV
An unidentified player clings to a support beam after the collapse.

Todd Archer, a Cowboys beat writer for The Dallas Morning News was pinned under a door as he was trying to exit the collapsing structure.

"The door wouldn't open, and when it did, it kind of collapsed," he said. "Half of my body was stuck; the legs were in the open air and my upper body was covered by the door frame."

Two Cowboys draft picks - DeAngelo Smith and Brandon Williams - lifted the debris to free Archer.

A bloodied assistant coach Dave Campo told reporters he had a special concern. "I was trying to get my son; he was underneath," Campo said. Both Campo and his son were all right.

"Unbelievable the way that thing hit - whoa!"

Arnold Payne / WFAA-TV
A team employee is rescued from a collapsed scaffold.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, in a TV interview from the Kentucky Derby, said 27 rookies were going through the workout.

"We're lucky no one got electrocuted with all the water in the building," head coach Wade Phillips said. "A couple of players had minor injuries, but they were all right."

Jason Audette lives in the neighborhood and was one of the first on the scene. "It was pretty quick; it did happen all of a sudden," he said. "I was shocked. I was frightened for the people who were inside.

Audette said he saw at least two people carried away on stretchers.

Irving fire-rescue officials ordered all reporters and team personnel away from the immediate area.

Arnold Payne / WFAA-TV
No one was killed when the huge facility collapsed during a storm.

The roof is a large air-supported canopy with aluminum frames covering a regulation 100-yard football field. The white, tent-like building is large enough to be seen from miles away. It was built in 2003, for Bill Parcells' first season as coach.

Storms often make loud noises inside the so-called bubble, but this time overhead lights swayed violently.

The storm was producing winds measured at 64 mph just before it struck the Cowboys facility, said National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Harris in Fort Worth. Power was out at the Valley Ranch facility.

Former Cowboys assistant coach Joe Avezzano told News 8 he was at the training facility earlier this morning and watched coverage of the collapse on television. "I have never felt unsafe in that structure," he said. "That had to be frightening."

This was the second of three scheduled days of practices, but Sunday's session has been canceled.

WFAA-TV reporters Joe Trahan, Jonathan Betz and Monika Diaz at Valley Ranch and George Riba in Dallas, The Dallas Morning News and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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