Video: Sweat lodge deaths raise questions

  1. Closed captioning of: Sweat lodge deaths raise questions

    >>> welcome back to "dr. nancy." investigators in arizona are looking into the possibility of criminal negligence after two dozen others got sick in a sweat lodge retreat. $9,000 self-help get away. after fasting for several days, participants entered the lodge to take part in a native american ritual seeking cleansing through steam. police believe up to 60 people were cram under to a small, crudely built lodge before someone notesed there was a problem and called 911.

    >> two people aren't breathing and no pulse.

    >> two not breathing?

    >> probably in their 50s.

    >> in their 50s, okay.

    >> it was led by james arthur ray who called it a spiritual warrior retreat and so far he has refused to talk to authorities. the tragedy in arizona is raising concerns about the new-age healers and the message for therapists and shamans. i'm joined now by the man "discover" magazine calls the real dr. house. alternative medicine expert dr. tom volte. we were talking before the cameras came on, i've done this. i did it 15 or 18 years ago. it was a small group of people. certainly we didn't fast for two days and the roof was ventilated and we could all see each other. there is nothing about this.

    >> well, they said it was about 400 square feet and that would add up to a 20 by 20 foot room and 64 people in the room and with a rooftop four feet above the ground. it just seems like it would be a lot to monitor for one person.

    >> extreme between the smoke and the heat. people cooked or affixiated and that's why two young people died.

    >> yeah, it's also a tragedy.

    >> what is the rule for this? you look at life through a different lens. you look at medicine through a different lens and alternative medicine is now converging with main stream medicine to be now considered complimentary. some things like this kind of hijack.

    >> a lot of things in main stream medicine that are moving, i'm sorry, a lot of things that are moving from alternative medicine to main stream medicine and spirituality is something even with the way health care is going in the last 40, 50 years is kind of lacking in the physician/patient relationship because if you have to see five patients per hour or whatever, you really can get to know them spiritually. so, i think that's the biggest issue that i find. but people looking for spirituality and winding up at one of these resorts.

    >> at a high priced sort of fixed kind of spiritual retreat .

    >> that's a whole other thing to find yourself and to use a vehicle to get there. spiritually, this is what i found confusing was that it seemed like they were going to like a mini indian reservation with a sweat lodge and there was, i think there were tepees at this place and the person hosting it wasn't indian.

    >> and i don't think there were medical personnel there either. they wouldn't be calling 911.

    >> yes. they said there was a nurse there and as far as any kind of medical equipment for recess recessitation purposes.

    >> a reminder for people, buyer beware . you can find your spirituality closer to home sometimes.

    >>> up next, litterbox break through.

updated 10/12/2009 9:57:21 PM ET 2009-10-13T01:57:21

A sweat lodge outside Sedona, Ariz., where two people were overcome and later died and 19 others fell ill lacked the necessary building permit, an official said Monday.

Yavapai County building safety manager Jack Judd said there was no record of an application or permit for a temporary structure at the Angel Valley Retreat Center.

At any one time, 55 to 65 people attending the "Spiritual Warrior" program hosted by self-help expert and author James Arthur Ray were crowded into the 415-square-foot space during a two-hour period Thursday night, Yavapai County sheriff's officials said.

Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee died after being overcome in the sauna-like hut, which was built specifically for the five-day retreat. Nineteen other people were hospitalized with symptoms ranging from dehydration to kidney failure. One remained in critical condition Monday, and two others were in fair condition.

Sheriff's spokesman Dwight D'Evelyn said authorities believe Ray's staff either participated in erecting the structure or oversaw the construction. Ray's spokesman, Howard Bragman, declined to comment on the permit but said the resort's staff was under contract to build a sweat lodge to accommodate up to 75 people.

Sheriff's office investigating
Resort owner Amayra Hamilton and her husband, Michael, did not immediately return calls to their home and the resort Monday.

However, Amayra Hamilton said Saturday the sweat lodge built with a wood frame and covered with layers of tarps and blankets had been taken down.

Sweat Lodge Deaths
Yavapai County Sheriff's Office  /  AP
This photo provided by the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office shows the "sweatbox" structure at Angel Valley resort near Sedona, Ariz.

Judd said no inspection of the structure was conducted before it was dismantled. Sweat lodges commonly are used by American Indian tribes to cleanse the body and prepare for hunts, ceremonies and other events.

Verde Valley Fire Chief Jerry Doerksen, whose department responded to the initial 911 call of two people not breathing, said his department regularly inspects the Hamilton's property.

An inspection of the fire area used to heat cantaloupe-sized rocks that were taken into the sweat lodge determined it "would have been a legal fire," he said.

"Where they had the fire, they had a big area outside of it that was cleared," he said. "There wasn't a risk of it spreading someplace."

The sheriff's office is investigating to determine if criminal negligence played a role.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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