Sweat lodge survivors say Ray did little or nothing to aid victims

The Courier, Arizona/March 10, 2011

Camp Verde - Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk continued to build her manslaughter case against James Arthur Ray Thursday, calling on two more survivors of Ray's October 2009 sweat lodge ceremony.

The two men, Dennis Mehraver and Michael Oleson, both from Ontario, Canada, had somewhat different experiences in the sweat lodge. Still, they had a couple of key elements in common: Both trusted Ray, a self-help author and speaker, and both noted that Ray did little or nothing to help people who were in distress during and after the ceremony.

Ray has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter charges in the deaths of Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman - charges that could net him more than 30 years in prison if he is convicted. The 17-member jury could also consider a lesser charge of negligent homicide.

Mehraver, who has already settled a civil lawsuit against Ray, said he trusted his mentor, in some cases more than he believed in himself. Over the course of many Ray-led seminars, he said, he had come to believe it was a good thing to push his limits.

"With all my experiences before with Mr. Ray," Mehraver said, "I believed he knew how far I could go better than myself."

Oleson said he and his wife began to follow Ray and his seminars in the belief that the experience would allow them to give back more to the community and the world, most notably through the World Wealth Society.

Oleson and Mehraver sat in close proximity in the very dark lodge, but neither man said he was aware of the other during the ceremony.

Mehraver's experience was decidedly unpleasant. In the intense heat, he quickly started drifting in and out of lucidity.

"By the third or fourth round, I could still hear (Ray's) voice, but I could not understand what was going on," he said. A short time later, he realized he'd had enough.

"I think it was at the beginning of round five or six when I thought, 'I can't stay here any longer,'" he said. He started for the door but didn't make it on his own.

"My next memory was I was outside the tent and one of the volunteers was pouring water on me."

Over the next several minutes, he said, he passed in and out of consciousness. At one point he began to believe he was having a heart attack.

"I started screaming as loud as I can," he said.

Under Polk's questioning, Mehraver said that Ray did not stop the ceremony or try to check on his well-being. When the ceremony ended, he looked up to see Ray sitting in a chair beside him.

"Mr. Ray had a smile on his face and he helped me get up," he said. "I told Mr. Ray I thought I died and came back.

"Mr. Ray said go get a shower and get ready for dinner."

Mehraver eventually went to the Verde Valley Medical Center, where doctors treated and released him, unable to identify a cause for his symptoms.

Oleson was determined to get through the ceremony but found himself needing to leave after five rounds. After a brief rest, he returned and found two women in trouble. At the end of the ceremony, he and others helped the two get outside, where the chaotic aftermath of the sweat lodge was in full swing.

Polk asked Oleson if he was concerned for the women and for his wife, who stayed in the lodge the entire time.

"I was concerned about everybody," he said. "In hindsight, I wondered if I shouldn't have done something different, but I wasn't running the show."

If not for Ray's purported temper, he said, he might not have waited as long as he did to help others get out.

"I don't think it would have been a good idea (to disrupt the ceremony)," he said. "He doesn't like it when people interrupt the process."

Testimony will continue today in Superior Court.

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