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Sweat lodge deaths investigated as homicides

By Associated Press
October 16, 2009

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PRESCOTT, Ariz. The deaths of two people during a sweat lodge ceremony led by self-help expert James Arthur Ray are being investigated as homicides, authorities said yesterday.

Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh said the deaths of Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee were not accidental.

“A combination of circumstances led to the deaths,’’ Waugh said. “Whether or not we can prove a criminal case, that has yet to be determined.’’

Waugh said investigators are looking at the way the sweat lodge was built, the fact that people had fallen ill at previous sweat ceremonies led by Ray, and questionable medical care on site. Ray is the focus of the probe, but others also are being investigated, the sheriff said.

Ray led more than 50 people into a makeshift sweat lodge at a retreat outside Sedona, Ariz., on Oct. 8. After about two hours, Brown and Shore were pulled out of the structure. Nineteen other people were hospitalized, and one remains in critical condition.

“He’s a motivational speaker who tried his hand at very dangerous physical things, and it was reckless,’’ Brown’s cousin Tom McFeeley said of Ray. “It doesn’t surprise us in the least.’’