- The Washington Times - Monday, October 19, 2009

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) | The family of a Minnesota woman who died more than a week after being overcome in an Arizona sweat lodge ceremony said Sunday that she prided herself on leading a healthy and active life.

Liz Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, suffered multiple organ damage and was in a coma before she died Saturday at a Flagstaff hospital. She was among dozens crowded into the sweat lodge on Oct. 8 at a resort just outside Sedona, a town 115 miles north of Phoenix that draws many in the New Age spiritual movement.

“She always had a smile on her face and her positive attitude was contagious to those around her,” her family said. “She was loved and will be missed by many.”

Family attorney Louis Diesel said appropriate measures were not taken to prevent Ms. Neuman’s death and that he was planning a lawsuit on their behalf.

“She left this world way too soon,” he said Sunday.

Self-help expert and author James Arthur Ray had rented the Angel Valley Retreat Center for his five-day “Spiritual Warrior” event that culminated in a sweat lodge ceremony.

Between 55 and 65 people were in the makeshift sweat lodge over a two-hour period, and authorities said participants were highly encouraged but not forced to remain inside for the entire time. An emergency call reported two people without a pulse and not breathing.

Twenty-one people were taken to area hospitals with illnesses ranging from dehydration to kidney failure. Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee, died upon arrival at a hospital. No one else remains hospitalized.

Sheriff’s investigators in Arizona’s Yavapai County are treating the deaths as homicides but have yet to determine the cause. Autopsy results for Ms. Brown and Mr. Shore were pending.

Investigators are looking into the construction of the sweat lodge, the fact that people had fallen ill at previous sweat ceremonies led by Mr. Ray and questionable medical care on site as they try to determine whether criminal negligence contributed to the deaths and illnesses.

Authorities have said a nurse hired by Mr. Ray was directing rescue efforts including CPR when emergency crews arrived. Mr. Ray is the primary focus of the probe but others also are being investigated, Sheriff Steve Waugh has said.

Mr. Ray wrote on his Facebook page on Sunday that he was deeply saddened by news of the death of Ms. Neuman, whom he had known for more than seven years.

“Liz was an amazing woman who touched so many lives” he wrote. “She’ll be cherished and remembered by all. Liz, you’re in our hearts forever. My continued love, prayers and support go out to her family in this time of grief and loss.”

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