Testimony begins in Cowboys Stadium falling ice case

Print
Email
|

by TANYA EISERER

Bio | Email | Follow: @tanyaeiserer

WFAA

Posted on February 25, 2014 at 1:24 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 25 at 9:33 PM

A former roofing project manager for the Dallas Cowboys Stadium testified Tuesday that he warned the building’s contractor about the danger of ice falling from the roof.
 
Rickey Harp testified that he had several conversations with Mark Hickman, a representative of the stadium’s general contractor, telling him that “this was going to be a safety issue.” Harp testified that he thought it was enough of a problem that he sent a memo to Hickman about it.
 
Asked what he thought when he saw ice falling from the stadium roof shortly before Super Bowl in 2011, he said, “Somebody’s going to get hurt and somebody’s going to find me.”
 
He was testifying in court in the lawsuit filed by former Super Bowl half time worker Severin Sampson who sued after he was injured by falling ice in 2011. Falling ice injured about a half a dozen other people two days before Super Bowl XLV when warming temperatures melted the snow and ice that collected on the stadium's roof.
 
In his opening statement, one of Sampson’s attorneys argued stadium officials "gambled with people's safety that day.” As a result, attorney Brian Butcher said Sampson can no longer work as a sound engineer, suffers from “permanent hearing loss” and a constant ringing in his ear.
 
"You are going to hear about a person who had what he loved taken away from him forever," Butcher said. "He has a monster in his ear."
 
During opening statements, attorneys gave a chronology of the events that happened on the morning of Feb. 4, 2011, the day that Sampson was injured.
 
About 10 a.m., ice falling from the roof hit a woman named Tina Kitts.
 
After that incident, the stadium’s general manager soon received a message about the falling ice. A mass email was sent out about 11 a.m. warning people of the potential danger, said Levi McCathern, an attorney representing the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL.
 
Shortly after 11:10 am, Sampson was inside the stadium working when he saw ice fall in the area that he was soon after struck, McCathern said.
 
It was around noon that the NFL’s security consultant ordered all entrances and exits shut down, except a tunnel leading to and from the building. McCathern said the evidence will show that Sampson walked out of an entrance even as a security officer was yelling at him “with a bullhorn, ‘Don’t go there.’’’
 
Butcher says Sampson and the other workers had been told to leave the building. He said that Sampson describes hearing something that sounds like a "locomotive" and he's hit by a "boulder of ice," which crushes him.
 
"The force of the impact fractured his skull," Butcher said
 
McCathern countered that the evidence would actually show that has had only a slight hearing loss, has made a strong recovery from his injuries and can still work. He said that Sampson has emotional problems as a result of marijuana use and unrelated to the incident.
 
Butcher acknowledged that his client smoked marijuana before and after the accident, but said it had no bearing on his injuries. He said the marijuana helps him sleep and cope with the ringing in his ears.
 
He argued that the NFL’s security consultant should have acted much sooner to shut down the building, particularly after he himself witnessed falling ice. He accused the stadium’s general manager of basically being MIA.
 
"There was a problem and he didn't do anything to address the situation," Butcher said of the general manager.
 
Butcher also pointed a finger at the HKS Architects, which designed the $1.3 billion building. He said they did nothing to address ice when they built what was the "largest domed roof in the world."
 
"It wasn't designed to keep ice on the roof," Butcher said.
 
McCathern strongly disagreed with Butcher’s assessment.
 
He characterized what happened to Sampson as an accident. He also said no one could foresee ice would fall off the roof and into the parking lot.
 
"Sometimes terrible things happen," he said. He blamed the rare weather conditions, first an ice storm and then a snow storm, with creating the unforeseeable. He said his clients took prompt and reasonable action on the day of the accident.

He and an attorney for HKS Architects said the building was constructed to meet all applicable building codes and those codes required precautions to prevent ice from falling from the roof.
 
“This is not the standard in Dallas, Texas,” said Hollye Fisk, the architect’s attorney.

During his testimony, Harp said he wrote the memo to Hickman during the construction of the stadium as a result of problems he and his workers were having with ice collecting on the roof. He said at some point, ice was falling into a huge gutter that encircled the roof and that he stopped work on the project. The judge declined to allow Sampson's attorney to show the jury the memo written by Harp.
 
“I felt it was a safety hazard,” he said.
 
At one point, he also said he brought ice guards to a meeting with the building contractor and recommended that they consider installing them.
 
Attorneys for the other side that it would have caused a potential leak issue. Harp agreed that could potentially be a problem.
 
Harp also testified that he knew that Hickman was somehow related to the family of Dallas Cowboys owner. He said he did not view it was speaking to a member of the Jones family, however.
 
During testimony, Butcher asked Harp what he said when he called him up.
 
“I told you that I had knowledge of the stadium and ice and that someone was going to get sued,” Harp replied. “It took a long time for you to find me, but I was waiting.”
 
In this opening statement, Butcher said the private security company and the stadium event planner didn't have the authority to shut down the stadium and he indicated that he didn't think they were at fault. That prompted the judge to question why they were even included in the lawsuit. The two companies are still a party to the lawsuit at this point.

E-mail teiserer@wfaa.com
 

Print
Email
|