First lawsuits filed in deadly sweat lodge ceremony

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SEDONA -- One of the survivors of a sweat lodge ceremony near Sedona  that turned deadly has filed a lawsuit. Another suit has been filed by the family of one of those killed.

Alleging wrongful death, negligence and fraud, the suits seek unspecified monetary damages.

Sidney Spencer, 59, names self-help guru James Arthur Ray, the owners of Angel Valley Ranch and others in the lawsuit.

"Mr. Ray very cleverly manipulated and coerced some 60 innocent folks into a death trap," said Ted Schmidt, Spencer's attorney.

Ray led the ceremony that turned tragic earlier this month. Three people died and 20 others got sick.

While the deaths are being investigated as homicides, Ray has so far refused to talk to Yavapai County authorities.

In her lawsuit, Spencer claims that she was "deprived of food, water and hydration before she participated in the sweat lodge ceremony."

She goes on to say "the sweat lodge exposed her to extreme heat, inadequate hydration, oxygen and toxic fumes."

According to Spencer's suit, Ray and his group failed to properly monitor her physical well-being in the sweat lodge and ignored her even after she lost consciousness.

The family of Minnesota native Liz Newman, who died in the sweat lodge ceremony, has also filed suit.

While Ray did have the ceremony participants sign a liability waiver that details the potential dangers of sweat lodges, attorneys say such waivers often do not hold up in court. A judge or jury can decided to simply throw them out.

The owners of the resort, named as defendants in the suits, say they played no role in the sweat lodge.

As the investigation continues, Ray has canceled his all of his seminars for the rest of the year. He says he "needs to dedicate all  his physical and emotional energies" to bringing closure to the tragedy.