By Christopher Fox Graham and Michele Bradley

Larson Newspapers


Amarya Hamilton, one of the co-owners of Angel Valley Retreat Center, spoke Wednesday, Jan. 27, about the center’s involvement in the fatal sweat lodge incident that claimed three lives in October.

Three people died at the center southwest of Sedona following a sweat lodge ceremony at the end of the weeklong Spiritual Warrior retreat led by California motivational speaker James Arthur Ray.

Speaking on behalf of herself and her husband, co-owner Michael Hamilton, Amarya Hamilton said that they have stayed in the background since the incident. They are not in direct contact with Ray, but have been speaking with the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office since the incident.

“It is important to communicate with them,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said the sweat lodge ceremony is for healing and contemplation. The way it is conducted determines its intensity.

The Hamiltons did not observe or take part in the October sweat lodge, nor have they been invited to participate in any of Ray’s retreats or events, she said.

Sweat lodges traditionally consist of four rounds with four to six hot stones brought into the lodge in each round, Hamilton said, yielding a total of around 20 stones.

Ray’s ceremony consisted of eight rounds, according to YCSO, and there were around 50 stones in the lodge’s pit.

Angel Valley contracted with a local Native American man to build the most recent lodge in 2008. The man who designed and supervised construction and his relative who built the lodge both have extensive experience constructing sweat lodges, according to Hamilton.

These two Native American men conducted several ceremonies in the same structure with no problems, Hamilton said.

The same blankets and tarps have been used in all sweat lodge ceremonies at Angel Valley since 2005 and placed in storage between ceremonies, Hamilton said.

The most recent lodge was built in 2008 to Ray’s specifications of holding up to 75 people. It had been used four times by other groups, she said.

Deputies investigated the site Oct. 8 and 9 and took samples of the stones, soil and coverings. Afterward, Hamilton said she and Angel Valley staff dismantled the lodge, burned the willow branch frame and shaped the stones into a heart-shaped memorial on the site. She said some of the retreat participants wanted to be a part of it.

“We wanted to start clearing energetically,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said she has had continuous contact with the mother of victim Kirby Brown and the wife of victim James Shore, first-time retreat attendees who both died Oct. 8.

Hamilton said she was well acquainted with the third victim, Lizabeth Neuman, who had been coming to Angel Valley for seven years. Hamilton said she was in almost daily contact with Neuman’s daughter until she died at Flagstaff Medical Center on Oct. 18.

“Of all the people, we knew Liz [Neuman] the best,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said that she feels the incident has not raised concerns about the Sedona area metaphysical community.

“We can only grow from this, learn from this,” Hamilton said. “You try to be a better facilitator. Always check with yourself if it doesn’t feel right. Listen to yourself. If it helps people think and be aware then that’s actually a good thing.”

Hamilton said the retreat center had one group cancel a reservation the week following the incident but have had no other cancellations.

Angel Valley held a memorial service Nov. 1, attended by 60 people, almost all local

residents, she said.

“Sweat lodges have been done for thousands of years all over the world,” Hamilton said, adding that they are performed by many cultures.

Angel Valley and Ray were named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by the Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council on Nov. 2. The suit alleges use of the lodge violates an 1868 peace treaty with the Lakota by dishonoring their Native American heritage.

Several more lawsuits have been filed against Ray by survivors and victims’ families.

Hamilton said she is not worried about pending or possible lawsuits against Angel Valley.

“In this American society, lawsuits are part of life,” she said. “We do feel it’s wise to be cautious in what we say and what we do,” she said. “Individual healing for people is delayed when all the

focus and energy goes into a lawsuit. For me, that is a sad thing.”

YCSO has referred all inquiries to the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office, which is not releasing any information pending the results of the homicide investigation. No charges have yet been filed.

Nearly three weeks after the Sedona City Council forwarded its recommendations to U.S. Rep. Anne Kirkpatrick [D-District 1] on the National Scenic Area, the congresswoman has yet to decide on the bill’s final language or verbalize any thoughts regarding the desires of the city.

“The congresswoman is still reviewing the comments and suggestions received from the Sedona City Council on the initial draft of the bill, along with those from other interested stakeholders and community members,” said Kirkpatrick’s Washington, D.C., press secretary Joe Katz.

Calls to the congresswoman’s Coconino County office were not returned.

Katz said Kirkpatrick is reviewing what other organizations want. Those entities include the U.S. Forest Service, the Sedona-Red Rock Scenic Area Coalition, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix and the Sedona Verde Valley Association of Realtors.

He said the groups gave feedback on the draft legislation and want to move forward with the National Scenic Area designation for the red rock area.

No date has been decided on when the congresswoman will draft or submit the final bill.

In January, her staff will meet with various stakeholders to discuss comments and decide how and when to move forward.

City Manager Tim Ernster said Sedona is in a holding pattern since it has no idea what the congresswoman is thinking. He also said there has been no contact with her or her staff since receiving a thank you letter after she received the council’s recommendations. The recommendations were sent to Kirkpatrick’s office Nov. 30.

However, the City Council told her in its recommendations it was not in favor of the NSA designation but gave her its list only in case she decided to go forward.

In Kirkpatrick’s letter to the city, her staff wrote that by circulating a discussion draft of this bill, Kirkpatrick hoped to provide the community an opportunity to review the actual legislative language.

“We understand this is not final but we hope this will generate

a discussion about the

intended and any unintended consequences of potential legislation from the many stakeholders that have an opinion on this proposed scenic designation for the Sedona area. Please keep in mind, the draft bill you reviewed has not been introduced and the next step is getting general and, more helpful, specific suggestions or edits to the actual language itself,” her staff wrote back to the city after receiving its recommendations.

Keep Sedona Beautiful called its submitted draft legislation to Kirkpatrick a critical step in creating an NSA designation.

Spokesman Seth Scott said the 10-­year movement to preserve federal land near Sedona through a National Scenic Area designation took a critical step forward with the draft legislation recommendations to Kirkpatrick.

Scott said he is confident the congresswoman will look favorably at its recommendations because the group stayed within the parameters of what she seeks. However, her press secretary said everything is still under review.

Steve DeVol, president of Keep Sedona Beautiful, said its group sent its recommendations to the congresswoman Dec. 1. Its main focus is to keep Sedona as it is and prevent land trades to developers.

“It’s all about jobs,” he said, mentioning tourists come to the community for the open spaces and scenic areas, which DeVol thinks drives its economic base.

Kirkpatrick has said she was going to introduce legislation to secure designation and prevent land trades in the surrounding Coconino National Forest.


Michael Maresh can be reached at 282-7795, ext. 125, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


In order to expedite activities on the State Route 179 project, the contractor will be working Saturdays during the day through the end of the year.

Sunday work may also be necessary.

  • Schnebly Hill and Oak Creek bridge area: Traffic was shifted near the intersection to begin removal of the old bridge and provide a work zone to install storm drains and complete construction of the new bridge.

Traffic is anticipated to be transitioned onto the south portion of the new bridge the week of Monday, Dec. 14.

The old bridge is anticipated to be removed the week of Monday, Dec. 21.adot-logo

  • Activities between Morgan Wash and Canyon Drive: The uphill and downhill retaining walls are taking shape and moving forward as scheduled. A portion of the uphill wall south of Canyon Drive includes nails drilled into the soil for stability.

The final wall will be placed in front of the soil-nailed wall and be tied into the wall currently being poured south of this section.

  • Bowstring Drive to Morgan Wash: Traffic was recently shifted to the east side of the road to allow construction of a storm drain, catch basins and curb and gutter along the west side of the roadway.

Changes to construction plans can happen frequently due to weather, equipment and personnel availability.

For a complete listing of highway restrictions across Arizona visit Arizona Department of Transportation’s travel information Web site or call 5-1-1.


Despite facing a $100 million budget deficit and recognizing critical safety and economic concerns, the Arizona Department of Transportation decided Friday, Dec. 4, to continue plowing snow at the same pace of last year on State Route 89A in Oak Creek Canyon.

About three weeks ago, ADOT announced it would close the switchbacks during stormy weather this winter because there were not enough funds to plow the route.

After the city of Sedona and the Sedona Chamber of Commerce expressed concerns with the closures, ADOT started looking at other cost-saving alternatives.

adot-logoADOT Spokesman Rod Wigman said the department decided to sell surplus vehicles rather than close state highways when it snows. He anticipates the state will generate about $2 million by selling them.

He said the funds will be earmarked for Northern Arizona cities and towns needing snowplows and other snow removal equipment to keep roads open.

ADOT’s budget deficit, created by $500 million in diverted transportation funds and declining revenue, was hit hard, and a variety of services like highway maintenance — including snowplowing — were on the chopping block.

Sedona Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jennifer Wesselhoff was thrilled to hear ADOT decided to not close State Route 89A when it snows.

“We’re very pleased with the outcome and know that many local, regional and state leaders were instrumental in accomplishing this victory,” she said. “SR 89A is an integral lifeline to Sedona and we are very pleased that ADOT has found the resources to accommodate the snow plan efforts at the same level as last year.

“This victory illustrates the power of a unified voice in the business community. We’ve won the battle this year, however, we will need to begin working now in order to ensure that funding to ADOT is maintained at a level where accessibility and safety are maintained over the next several years.”

The state’s hiring freeze left ADOT with too few qualified snowplow drivers, and a depleted budget left no money to replace snowplows, costing $250,000 each, and there

were fewer dollars to buy materials.

According to a press release, ADOT is making further operational cuts and plans a one-time sale of several hundred fleet vehicles to support snowplowing and keep routes open. Snow removal requires money for materials, equipment and people — all of which were impacted by the shortfall.

“This is a one-time strategy. Plowing snow is critical for public safety and keeping the economy moving. We found a solution for this year, but the long-term should be a concern for every driver in Arizona,” ADOT Director John Halikowski said.

“How will we fund snow plowing next year? There are no concrete answers for that challenge, which may only increase if transportation revenues continue to decline or if additional transportation dollars are diverted to the

state budget.”

Sedona City Manager Tim Ernster said the importance of ADOT’s decision not to close the route cannot be overstated.

“This was kind of a late hit. This was not something we were expecting,” he said of the anticipated closures.

He said the city must monitor the situation for next year so there are no surprises and mentioned meeting with other entities to determine how to prepare.

“The key is we need to stay on this for next year,” he said.

He mentioned if the route had closed when it snowed, visitors who normally would have stopped in Sedona on the way to Flagstaff and Grand Canyon would have bypassed the city. He added he was unsure what the financial impact in sales tax to the city would be if ADOT officials had not changed their minds.

Responsiveness to individual storm events will vary based on the severity of the storm and availability of people and equipment.

Wigman said spending additional dollars on snow removal means ADOT has fewer resources for other highway maintenance activities, such as removal of weeds, litter and debris.


Michael Maresh can be reached at 282-7795, ext. 125, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


A Sedona resident tendered his resignation as the Camp Verde magistrate to take the same job in the city in which he lives.

Rodger Overholser, in a letter to Camp Verde Mayor Bob Burnside, said his last day with Camp Verde will be Thursday, Dec. 31.

“I have enjoyed my time  with the town of Camp Verde very much and will greatly miss the exceptional court staff I have been privileged to work with,” he wrote. “However, I feel that this move presents a significant opportunity for professional development and financial reward that I cannot ignore.”

He said working in the city where he lives is a factor, too.

Attempts to reach Overholser at his home and work were unsuccessful by press time.


adotPHOENIX – Drivers heading out on the highway over the Thanksgiving weekend in Arizona will not encounter any highway construction closures. The Arizona Department of Transportation says crews will take a break from highway work requiring restrictions through Monday morning (Nov. 30).  ADOT is urging drivers to be extremely careful over the holiday weekend.

ADOT and law enforcement agencies throughout the state are asking drivers and passengers to buckle up and observe the following safe driving tips:

  • Allow extra travel time and be patient; avoid distractions
  • Observe speed limits, including lower speeds in work zones
  • Check your vehicle before traveling, including tire pressure
  • Be prepared for unscheduled closures; bring extra supplies, including water
  • Get a good night’s rest before driving
  • Never Drink and Drive; think ahead and arrange a designated driver

Five people were killed in traffic crashes over the Thanksgiving weekend in Arizona last year.  That marked a drop in traffic fatalities over the holiday weekend.  14 people lost their lives in Thanksgiving weekend crashes in 2007.

Drivers can get the latest information about highway restrictions via ADOT’s Travel Information site at or by calling 5-1-1.

Earlier this month, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office was granted a three-year contract extension with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency regarding the 287(g) program.

Section 287(g) is part of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which permits local law enforcement officers who complete specialized training to enforce immigration law and identify foreign-born criminals.

The YCSO program includes eight specially trained detention classification officers who have access to ICE computer databases as part of their duties. These officers are qualified to determine the legal status of any arrestee processed at the Yavapai County Detention Center in Camp Verde.

Without access to these ICE databases, detention officers would lack the ability to identify many dangerous and previously deported criminal illegal aliens.

Since the 287(g) program’s inception in April 2008, the Detention Services Division has interviewed 13,000 persons during the booking and classification process. In each case, the arrestee was booked on local charges with the eventual determination of undocumented alien status as a result of 287(g) processing by ICE-trained detention officers.

Additionally, YCSO has three trained 287(g) patrol personnel who are used in the field to assist in determining the legal status of persons already detained as part of a criminal investigation.

Their expertise is also used during traffic stops involving transportation of undocumented immigrants by “coyotes” paid to act as human smuggling agents.

As a result of this program, YCSO has transferred over 1,500 illegal aliens to ICE for deportation. This includes aliens processed while in custody and those held during human-smuggling investigations in the field.

Additionally, numerous identity theft cases have been solved through discovery of fraudulent identification cards on many of those detained.

“The strong partnership that the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office has built with ICE under the 287(g) program serves as a model in demonstrating how law enforcement agencies can work together to improve public safety in their communities,” Katrina S. Kane, field office director of ICE Detention and Removal Operations in Arizona, stated in a press release.

Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh stated in a press release that he is thankful for the cooperative effort between YCSO and ICE regarding the 287(g) program. “Through this cooperative effort, our ability to identify criminal aliens for deportation has reduced crime and made Yavapai County a safer place to live,” he stated.


The Coconino County Health Department has received a limited supply of H1N1, or swine flu, vaccine.

Appointments for the H1N1 Flu Vaccination Clinics can be scheduled by calling CCHD Flu Information Line at (928) 679-7300.

Appointments are reserved for the first priority group which includes:

 Pregnant women,

 Children 6 months to 4 years old,

 Children between 5 and 18 with underlying health conditions — neuromuscular disease, diabetes, underlying heart or lung conditions, or suppressed immune system,

 Anyone who lives with or cares for children less than 6 months old,

 Health care workers with direct patient contact.

H1N1 Flu Clinics are scheduled in Flagstaff on Saturday, Oct. 24, at the Coconino County Health Department, 2625 N. King Street, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

CCHD Clinics are Monday, Wednesday and Friday beginning Monday, Oct. 26, at Coconino County Health Department, 2625 N. King Street, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. All clinics are subject to change due to vaccine availability. Appointments are required.

As additional H1N1 flu vaccine is received, the vaccine will be made available to a wider risk group and then, if supplies allow, to the general public.

There is no out-of-pocket cost for H1N1 flu vaccinations. Bring your Medicare, Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System or insurance card.

Due to delivery delays and high demand, adult seasonal flu vaccine is not currently available.

Vaccine for children 6 months through age 18 is available. Call the CCHD Flu Information Line to schedule an appointment for a children’s seasonal flu shot.yavapai-county-seal

Seasonal flu vaccinations for children age 18 and under are $15. When available, adult seasonal flu vaccinations are $25.

Seasonal flu vaccinations are free for people who have Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, excluding Medicare supplement customers and Out-of-state Blue Cross and/or Blue Shield plan members; Medicare; AHCCCS; Health Choice Arizona and Phoenix Health Plans. You must present your insurance card.

No one will be denied service due to inability to pay.

Additional flu vaccination clinics will be scheduled as vaccine supplies allow. All clinics are based on availability of vaccine and subject to change.

Pneumonia vaccinations are available for a cost of $30. Pneumonia vaccinations are recommended for individuals age 65 and older and for some high-risk groups. Check for updated clinic schedules or call (877) 679-7272.


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