Arizona 'Sweat Lodge' Survivor Speaks Out

Sidney Spencer is suing motivational speaker James Arthur Ray for her injuries.

October 21, 2009, 10:46 PM

Oct. 22, 2009— -- A survivor of the Sedona, Ariz., sweat lodge incident that killed three people this month is now suing motivational speaker James Arthur Ray, saying she nearly died from kidney and liver failure.

Sidney Spencer, 59, said she paid $9,000 to attend the five-day retreat at which Ray promised that participants would be cleansed from sitting in a 120-degree makeshift "sweat hut."

"Mr. Ray created a death trap," Spencer's attorney, Ted Schmidt, told "Good Morning America" today. "And created a heat environment in that sweat lodge that was intolerable for human beings."

Ray has refused all interview requests, but in a message on his Web site he told followers that he felt their pain, and that while he was also investigating what went wrong, he is determined to continue with his self-help ministry.

Other participants inside have said they were screaming "We need water," vomiting and fighting to stay alive.

They claim Ray said vomiting helps "purge the body" of what it doesn't need and coerced them to remain inside the sweltering tent.

Three people died as a result of the incident, including Kirby Brown, 38, and James Shore, 40, both of whom paid nearly $10,000 to spend the week with Ray, a frequent guest on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" who helped write the best-selling documentary and book, "The Secret."

Liz Neuman, 49, spent more than a week in a coma and died Oct. 17, according to the AP. Eighteen others were injured.

Survivor Beverly Bunn told The Associated Press that even while people were collapsing, vomiting and gasping for air, Ray, who was leading the ceremony, urged everyone to stay inside.

More than 60 people were gathered inside the tent hoping to cleanse their bodies. But within the hour people began to collapse and vomit, Bunn said.

While people were not physically forced to remain in the tent, Bunn said Ray would chide them if they wanted to leave, saying weakness could be overcome, according to the AP.

Bunn told the AP she remembered hearing another person inside the tent trying to alert the group that one woman was having physical problems, saying, "I can't get her to move. I can't get her to wake up."

According to Bunn, Ray responded, "Leave her alone. She'll be dealt with in the next round."

The sweat lodge ritual was divided into 15-minute "rounds," when the entrance flap would open briefly and additional heated rocks were brought inside, Bunn told the AP.

The 43-year-old Texan said she had crawled to a spot close to the flap to breathe in fresh air, all the while praying for the door to stay open.

When someone lifted up the bottom of the tent, allowing light and fresh air into the dark tent, Bunn told the AP that Ray demanded to know who was committing a "sacrilegious act."

Bunn said the sweat lodge ceremony came after days of mentally and physically taxing exercises, including fasting, and in one game Ray played God.

Investigators Probing 'Sweat Lodge' Deaths

Kirby Brown, a surfer and hiker, was in excellent health, according to her family.

"She was the picture of perfect health," Tom McFeeley, Brown's cousin, told "Good Morning America" Oct. 12. "Nobody could keep up with her physically or in any other way. She was just that type of person."

Brown had been to other retreats hosted by Ray, even bringing her parents, but none of them required a physical component to his teachings, McFeeley said.

"We have not heard from Mr. Ray or anyone in his organization," McFeeley said. "It does surprise us, based on the type of man we thought he was."

But McFeeley was quick to point out that the Brown family does not have any ill-will toward Ray, saying it's dangerous to make assumptions when they still have so many unanswered questions.

"For us to even have anger or any such emotion is pointless at this point," he said. "There will be plenty of time to react to the truth."

CLICK HERE to return to the "Good Morning America" Web site.

ABC's Sarah Netter contributed to this report.

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