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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

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10/9/2009 12:26:00 PM
Two die, 19 ill in sweat lodge incident
Angel Valley Retreat operators say the facilities were rented out to another group for the Thursday event. In addition to the 48 participants, three staff members and three members of the
Angel Valley Retreat operators say the facilities were rented out to another group for the Thursday event. In addition to the 48 participants, three staff members and three members of the "dream team" were in the sweat lodge, in which water is poured over hot rocks to create steam in the enclosures.

Jon Hutchinson
Staff Reporter


SEDONA -- Two people have died and a total of 19 were treated at one of three medical centers Thursday night when participants collapsed after a New Age-type sweat lodge experience near Sedona.

As many as 68 people are reported to have packed into a tarpaulin-covered dome at the remote retreat in Deer Pass Valley about 6.5 miles south of West Sedona along Oak Creek.

The domed structure is about 30 feet long and about shoulder high, estimated Merry Shanks of the Verde Valley Fire District, the agency that commanded the rescue.

Angel Valley Retreat operators say the facilities were rented out to another group for the Thursday event. In addition to the 48 participants, three staff members and three members of the "Dream Team" were in the sweat lodge, where water is poured over hot rocks to create steam in the enclosures.

The event was hosted by James Arthur Ray for a "Spiritual Warrior" phase of his "Journey of Power Experience" series of lectures presented across the country.

Participants told Yavapai County Sheriff's Office investigators they paid up to $9,000 for the experience. Ray was in the shelter at the time of the illnesses, was interviewed by investigators, and has now left the facility.

Shanks was told the "experience" had eight "rounds" over a two-hour period.

The Verde Valley Fire District initially was called about 5:19 p.m. to what was thought to be an emergency medical incident, but it quickly escalated as sweat lodge participants were reported to have "coded."

"While we were there more and more people were getting sick," said Shanks, spokeswoman for the Verde Valley Fire District.

Eventually, three medical helicopters carried four victims to Flagstaff Medical Center. Ground ambulances were summoned from Sedona Fire, Montezuma-Rimrock Fire, Verde Valley Ambulance, Camp Verde Fire.

Two of those transported to Verde Valley Medical Center were pronounced dead shortly after arrival. They were a middle-aged man and a woman. Their identities have been withheld pending notification of relatives.

A preliminary assessment by the Camp Verde Haz-Mat Team showed no hazardous materials. Camp Verde Fire Spokeswoman Barbara Rice notes that tests were taken nearly an hour after the first call and when the structure had been ventilated. Crews found carbon monoxide traces in the "voids" between the covering blankets and a lack of oxygen.

Five patients taken to Sedona Medical Center were treated and released. A total of 12 were taken to Verde Valley Medical Center. Seven were treated and released Thursday. Three more were admitted, treated and released Friday. Of four patients flown to Flagstaff Medical Center, four remain in critical condition at noon Friday and one is in fair condition.

Robert Resendes, director of the Yavapai County Health Department, says the department inspects the kitchen at the retreat in another building, but does not have any authority over the sweat lodge.

Yavapai Sheriff's Office detectives arrived Thursday night to begin the unexplained death investigation. They interviewed principals in the activities and were expected to obtain search warrants to determine if evidence exists in other buildings at the retreat.

The 70-acre retreat lies at the end of a rough Forest Service Road on the east side of Oak Creek.

The retreat area has been closed to the press and public pending the investigation.



Related Stories:
• Sweat lodge deaths now a homicide case; Deputies search Ray's California headquarters
• Teamwork: Verde Valley Fire talks about Angel Valley rescue
• Investigators seek answers in deaths, illness during sweat lodge ceremony


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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Article comment by: Monica Marquez

I think that this Ray person should be charged and have to answer for what he has done to all of these people, doctors are sued all of the time for improper use of medicine, anybody with any knowledge of the sweat lodge, see the fatal mistakes that this person made. Which he made others believe that he knew what he was doing and took on the responsiblity of all those lives, and also charged them all of that money. It may have been an accident, but people still lost their lives.

Posted: Saturday, October 10, 2009
Article comment by: A REAL APACHE INDIAN

This is where the new age stuff gets to their heads. Why do people even try to do things that are not their culture? A warning to everyone "Indian medicine is very strong and powerful." This ceremony no matter what should have had a medicine man in there not some white who thinks he knows what he is doing. These people should have NEVER been charged money for something like this. I pray for the families of lost loved ones and may justice be paid.

Posted: Saturday, October 10, 2009
Article comment by: WolvenKin

I don't know the Indian traditions -- but I'm sure they don't pay $9000 for a sauna! And get sick besides? Hell of a deal! Can you say, "Holy Rip-offs"? How stupidly gullible can people get?

Posted: Saturday, October 10, 2009
Article comment by: Sam B

Take a real traditional dry sweat bath to cleanse the body and rejuvenate. What kind of foolishness is this? Empty your wallet and get poisoned bad deal!

Posted: Saturday, October 10, 2009
Article comment by: Barefoot

Disgusting, this man obviously had no business running a sweat. This is the worst kind of charlatanism.

Posted: Saturday, October 10, 2009
Article comment by: M & S

The man pouring the water is souly responsible for the saftey and wellbeing of those who have come to pray with him. A sweat is NEVER paid for. It is part a culture not a vacation. This was wrong on so many levels. We pray for all those involved.

Posted: Saturday, October 10, 2009
Article comment by: imominous

A Finnish friend was rofl when I sent him this. He says they're doing it wrong. This type of faux Native American "spirituality" cracks me up. You'd pay $9000 for it? That ought to be a warning sign right there! How is this guy so enlightened, his seminars are worth that much? And that gullible twit, Oprah, has promoted it. Magical thinking Overcrowded, airtight sweat lodge full of dripping middle aged seekers. $9000 price tag. Darwin was right, except these people have probably spawned already.

Posted: Saturday, October 10, 2009
Article comment by: Former employee Rich

You can't bottle up and sell spirituality. There's a sucker born every minute. Talk about KARMA.

Posted: Saturday, October 10, 2009
Article comment by: DW

Crystal Cracking Bunch Of Morons....Hope the spiritual journey was what you expected....Next time just take a hot shower at home.........!

Posted: Saturday, October 10, 2009
Article comment by: Money to burn

It amazes me that in this economy people would spend $9,000 to do this.

Posted: Friday, October 9, 2009
Article comment by: R_E_W

THIS IS WHY YOU DO NOT GO TO THINGS LIKE THIS! PAY MONEY THESE PEOPLE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE SWEAT LODGE IS ABOUT!YOU NEVER PAY ANY MONEY FOR THIS! THIS IS SPIRITUAL! AMERICAN INDIAN PEOPLES WAYS NOT A GAME! THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN PEOPLE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THEY ARE DOING! I PRAY FOR THOSE WHO HAVE LOST LOVED ONES, PLEASE DO NOT LET THIS BE IN VAIN! LEARN FROM THEIR MISTAKES....WE HAVE A HOLY MAN RUN THESE OR A MEDICINE MAN NOT SOMEONE THAT READS A BOOK AND THINKS THEY KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING, MANY THINGS TAKE PLACE IN THE SWEAT LODGE THAT YOU WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND!

Posted: Friday, October 9, 2009
Article comment by: Keep to your white man ways,

These New Age people are people who are are just plain "wanna-be Indians"-keep to your white man ways, and don't try to be what you ain't!! You'd get laughed off the reservation if you tried what you did in Indian Country!!

Posted: Friday, October 9, 2009
Article comment by: daleandersen

Just some stupid new age crap. Next time go to a sauna and leave the crystals and the tin foil hat in the drawer, dude...

Posted: Friday, October 9, 2009
Article comment by: T

You go to a sweat lodge to sweat...you do it wrong, you get sick or die....any questions?



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