The Death Lodge – exactly as plannedJanuary 20, 2010
Contrary to many reports, James Ray’s deadly Arizona sweat lodge went pretty much according to plan.
Lawyers statements confirm it. Witness statements confirm it, and as we shall see, contrary to reports that Ray stood around and did nothing amid the chaos, he in fact gave decisive instructions as the first ambulances started coming down the hill…
Exactly as planned
This will be like nothing you have ever experienced before. Even the natives say I have the hottest sweat lodges, even more extreme than the Lakota who are a crazy tribe. You will feel like your skin is falling off. It is going to be hotter than hell.
Mission accomplished. Virtually every participant who gave a statement to police clearly stated they felt like they were going to die – and almost immediately, from the moment James Ray ceremonially dumped the first five gallon bucket-full of water on the rocks, in traditional Native American style.
So as you can see, it was just another normal sweat lodge, with normal risks, requiring normal precautions – which, as his lawyers point out, is exactly what he had: hoses and buckets, electrolytes, pieces of watermelon and even a box of gauze and bandages for emergencies.
He could not have foreseen the need of extra assistance, like for example, four helicopters, three fire engines, six ambulances, a dozen or more officers from Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office, staff and resources of the Flagstaff Medical Center, trauma intervention volunteers, and the Camp Verde Hazardous Materials Team.
What didn’t go according to plan?
You will feel like you are going to die. I assure you will not die. If you pass out you will be cared for.
That bit didn’t go according to plan, but, as Ray’s lawyers point out, that was not Ray’s fault. He had assumed that participants would keep tabs on the unconscious in the low dark cramped oxygen-depleted 150 degree lodge, and then drag them out clockwise through the lodge as soon as the door was opened.
Alas, participants were unable to fulfill their role as expected, and it wasn’t Ray’s fault if some people didn’t make it out before the door closed. Ray’s first commitment of course was to the sacred traditions he was entrusted with. He takes Native traditions very seriously and was concerned that nothing sacreligeous should take place under his watch.
Also, Ray seems to have made a minor arithmetical error. He seems to have called round 5 twice, making the sweat lodge one extra round than it should have been.
This explains why he claims to have shortened it from the previous year despite it being a round longer. Maybe it made the sweat lodge more dangerous, and maybe it even cost lives, but as noted, normal precautions were in place.
No One was Forced
The lawyers make much of the idea that “no one was forced” to do the sweat lodge. Generally if people have paid $10,000 for an experienced they usually don’t need to be forced to do it. But if they were, what would it look like?
Witness: I saw two Dream Team members trying to push [a woman], physically, back into the lodge.
Someone informed them the woman did not want to go back in, and the woman escaped, so I guess that’s true that she was not forced. Not successfully at least.
A Registered Nurse Stationed Outside
Another slight mess up was that Ray claims he specifically made room for an extra volunteer because she was a nurse, and “stationed” her outside the sweat lodge. Unfortunately, this statement found its way into police reports:
(Volunteer) Lisa Ronan advised Megan Fredrickson that she was a nurse and requested to be on the outside of the lodge so she could help participants coming out, because last year she was in the lodge and ended up helping people.
It may also have been a little hotter than expected because staff member Greg Hartle crawled out at one point, and had to be “encouraged” by his boss to come back in, whereupon he vomited inside the lodge.
And even Ray, who had the best spot by the door, finished up lying on his back propped up on his elbows. He couldn’t see anyone, but of course didn’t need to because it wasn’t his job to monitor people’s health, as his lawyers frequently point out.
Ray Takes Control
Apart from that, Ray exited the lodge on his own two legs, not needing to be dragged out having a seizure and flown to hospital like his brother is reported to have done. He stood tall, raising his arms “like Rocky” (as described independently by two witnesses), got hosed down and sat on a chair.
Reports that he did nothing are untrue.
It appears he was available to “shake” a woman who was in catharsis.
And when one person crawled out and yelled at him Hey somebody needs to get in here and help these fucking people because they’re in trouble, Ray gave a clear and decisive answer: They’ll be ok.
And, even more decisively, as the first ambulances started coming down the hill, Ray took control of the scene and issued clear instructions:
Ray: Anybody who can walk, get up and go to your room now!
After that he stood and observed two people who were keeping emergency workers occupied and enjoying an out of body experience, and then said he was going to have a shower and left.
While eating his late lunch in his cabin, Ray noticed the first sign of trouble. A police officer appeared at his door, ignored Ray’s instruction to talk to Josh Fredrickson instead, and insisted Ray accompany him. After that Ray’s plans started for the first time to come tragically unstuck.
But that’s his story, and I don’t want to spoil it.
**Just for the record, the most recent witness statements are here, here, and the last one, from where most of this stuff came and isn’t so widely reported, is here. Heavy reading. For some light relief and the eloquently stated truth of the matter, see Salty Droid‘s hilarious annotated version of the “white papers“.