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Can Guru James Arthur Ray Use Positive Thinking to Make Wrongful Death Lawsuit Go Away?

(JamesRay.com)
Photo: James Arthur Ray.

PHOENIX (CBS/AP) Self-help guru James Arthur Ray has made a small fortune coaching people that they can achieve wealth and fulfillment by simply imagining the future they want. That's "The Secret."

PICTURES: Sweat Lodge Deaths

But the three people who died after a sweat lodge retreat run by Ray probably didn't imagine his words would be the last they ever heard.

Now, Ray will be forced to do some positive thinking of his own. The guru was hit with two lawsuits stemming from the Oct. 8 Angel Valley Retreat sweat lodge ceremony in Sedona, Ariz., that left three dead and 18 hospitalized.

The family of Liz Neuman, 49, filed a wrongful death suit Friday. Neuman died after spending 10 days in Flagstaff Medical Center. The suit claims that Ray never alerted the family to Neuman's condition, according to the Arizona Republic, and they only learned of her plight from the media.

Neuman's daughter, Andrea Puckett, said she wants to see Ray in jail.

"I would like to honestly see him behind bars. I think that what he did was negligent and resulted in the deaths of three people," she told KARE-TV in Minneapolis.

A southern Arizona woman, Sidney Spencer, who was badly hurt, also filed suit last week.

Ray is accused of negligence, fraud and other actions along with the owners of the Angel Valley Retreat Center, where his event was held, and other defendants.

A call seeking comment from Ray's attorney Brad Brian wasn't immediately returned.

Amayra Hamilton, who owns Angel Valley with her husband, said there was nothing wrong with the lodge itself and her center had no part in how Ray ran the ceremony.

(Family Photo)
Photo: Liz Neuman, 49, died 10 days after sweat lodge ceremony.
PICTURES: Sweat Lodge Deaths

The tragedy came at the end of a five-day Ray-led "Spiritual Warrior" program. Authorities have still not determined exactly why participants became so ill.

"This was a bizarre tragedy that could have easily been prevented if (Ray) and his staff had used just an ounce of common sense," said attorney Ted Schmidt, who represents Spencer.

The 59-year-old Spencer, who runs an Arizona cattle ranch, was hospitalized for days with kidney and liver failure and respiratory arrest following the ceremony.

"I believe he tricked these people, he coerced these people into this death trap, all for his financial gain," said Schmidt, who filed the lawsuit for Spencer.

Amayra Hamilton, speaking publicly for the first time since the event, told The Associated Press she was shocked to learn the 50-plus participants in Ray's program had gone two days without water during solitary "Vision Quests" in the hills around the centre before the sweat lodge ceremony.

Going without water badly dehydrated them before entering the sweat lodge, she said.

"The condition that the people were in before they were in the sweat lodge was not good," Hamilton said, adding Ray has been doing the same event at her centre since 2005.

"All those years I thought they had water with them, and I didn't know they didn't," she said.

Authorities in Yavapai County, Arizona, are continuing a criminal investigation into the incident at the retreat outside Sedona. Search warrants have been served at the headquarters of Ray's company, Carlsbad, California-based James Ray International, and detectives have interviewed many of the people who were inside the lodge.

No charges have been filed.

Interviews with participants and law enforcement officials paint a picture of a two-hour ceremony inside the sauna-like lodge heated with hot rocks that degenerated into chaos as people became sick but were encouraged to remain inside for the entire time by Ray.

Following the tragedy, Ray vowed to continue holding the events and appeared at seminars in Los Angeles, San Diego and Colorado. But after he was criticized by survivors and his publisher postponed two book releases this week, he announced on Thursday that he was cancelling his appearances.

Schmidt said the primary job of anyone leading such a ceremony is to monitor the participants, and in total darkness Ray couldn't do that.

"He used way too many rocks, way too much heat, way too long, for the dimensions of this death trap and the number of people in there," Schmidt said. "And when finally it become apparent that this is a catastrophe, he runs away, which is probably the best evidence that he is a snake oil salesman."

Ray initially refused to speak with authorities at the scene and soon left the state.

PICTURES: Sweat Lodge Deaths

MORE ON CRIMESIDER
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October 26, 2009 - Sweat-Lodge Deaths Won't Stop James Arthur Ray, No Mention of $9,000 Per Person Pricetag
October 23, 2009 - Sweat Lodge Hero? Victim May Have Saved Woman Before Dying, Says Participant Beverley Bunn
October 21, 2009 - Sweat Lodge Survivor Beverley Bunn Says James Arthur Ray Played God Before Deadly Ending
October 18, 2009 - Third Death from Sweat Lodge Ceremony Led by James Arthur Ray
October 16, 2009 - Self-Help Guru James Arthur Ray in Crosshairs of Angel Valley Sweat Lodge Homicide Investigation
October 15, 2009 - Desperate 911 Call: First Glimpse Into Angel Valley Sweat Lodge Deaths
October 13, 2009 - Angel Valley Sweat Lodge Deaths: Owner Didn't Have Permits
October 12, 2009 - Sweat Lodge Death Investigation Turns to Self-Help Guru James Arthur Ray
October 12, 2009 - Family Says New Yorker Kirby Brown was in Great Shape before Mysterious Sweat Lodge Death
October 9, 2009 - Angel Valley Resort: Two Dead, Many Hospitalized in Sedona Sweat Lodge Illness

  • Edecio Martinez

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