Charges over 'sweat lodge' deaths

BBC News/February 4, 2010

A motivational speaker has been charged with manslaughter over the deaths of three people who fell ill during a meeting at an Arizona sweat lodge.

James Ray surrendered to police at his lawyer's office and was taken to jail.

The deaths occurred at a retreat at the Angel Valley Retreat Center, 115 miles (180km) north of Phoenix, in October.

"This was a terrible accident, but it was an accident, not a criminal act," said Mr Ray's lawyer, adding that his client was confident of being cleared.

"James Ray co-operated at every step of the way, providing information and witnesses to the authorities showing that no-one could have foreseen this accident," said Luis Li.


Emergency services were called to the sweat lodge on 8 October after some of the 50 people at the event reported they were having difficulty breathing.

Two people fainted during the ceremony, and died later the same evening, and a third participant died a week later, after being in a coma.

Eighteen people were taken to hospital reportedly suffering from illnesses ranging from dehydration to kidney failure.

Some participants have said that Mr Ray pushed people to continue taking part in the event, despite their distress.

Mr Ray, who has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and Larry King Live, had rented the centre for his five-day "Spiritual Warrior" event.

Reports said some of the participants had paid up to $9,000 (£5,650) for their stay at the retreat, which also reportedly included a 36-hour fast.

Andrea Puckett, whose mother, Liz Neuman, 49, was one of the three who died, said she was relieved Mr Ray had been arrested.

"It helps that he is, for now, being stopped from doing what he's doing, from harming anyone else, and that's the biggest relief for me and my family right now," she told the Associated Press.

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