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Tue, Sep

The manslaughter trial of a self-help author and motivational speaker has been delayed after the presiding judge has been asked to take on another case.

James Arthur Ray, 52, was arrested earlier this year after three people died in an October 2009 sweat lodge ceremony at the Angel Valley Retreat Center southwest of Sedona.

Lizbeth Neuman, 49, of Michigan, Kirby Brown, 38, of New York and James Shore, 40, of Wisconsin, died after exposure to conditions inside the sweat lodge, a large tent-like structure that was heated to sauna-like temperatures. The ceremony was part of a weekend event that cost attendees nearly $10,000 a head.

Ray pleaded not guilty to the charges of manslaughter; the trial was originally set to begin Aug. 31, with at least 50 days set aside for arguments.

Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow has presided over the case, but was recently assigned to the Prescott murder case against Stephen Democker, accused of beating his ex-wife to death.

The judge previously handling the case is experiencing health problems, leaving the very busy Darrow as the next choice to take over.James Arthur Ray, 52, was arrested earlier this year after three people died in an October 2009 sweat lodge ceremony at the Angel Valley Retreat Center southwest of Sedona.

Ray’s defense team continues to pursue a change of venue for the trial, arguing that the publicity here in the Verde Valley may taint a potential jury pool.

Ray defense attorney Thomas Kelly has argued that changing the location may provide more room for what he expects to be a heavily attended and publicized trial.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk had earlier told the court the state has no objections to the idea of moving the trial, since neither Ray nor the victims have any ties to the area.

Still, the prosecution objected to the defense’s recent efforts to move the trial on the grounds that they filed too much paperwork, but the court recently waived length limitations on motions filed by the defense.

The court also ruled that the state could ignore length rules when it files responses as a result of the decision.

Darrow has indicated that the trial might not be able to begin until November if he remains assigned to the case.

In the meantime, Ray is free on bond to continue conducting business from his base of operations in California, and from there, throughout the country.

Darrow is expected to hear further motions in the case Tuesday, Aug. 10.

More than 30,000 acres of Coconino National Forest situated in the lower Verde Valley could be designated wilderness, where mountain bikes and all-terrain vehicles are banned, but only if Forest Supervisor Earl Stewart recommends it and Congress approves.

On July 10, the U.S. Forest Service issued a report about the 10 most likely candidates for wilderness designation within Coconino National Forest. Included on the list are six lower Verde Valley areas, Black Mountain, Cedar Bench, Cimarron-Boulder, Davey’s, Hackberry and Walker Mountain.The process from recommendation to approval could take one year or 20, said Sara Dechter, U.S. Forest Service social science analyst working on revisions to the Coconino National Forest Management Plan.

Before recommendations are signed, however, the public will have its say about potential wilderness, Dechter said.

USFS will meet the public to hear comments at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 27, at Red Rock Ranger District headquarters, 8375 SR 179, near the Village of Oak Creek.

Wilderness area designation is a small part of the Coconino National Forest Management Plan overhaul now being conducted by USFS. The last comprehensive revisions to the plan took place in 1987, Dechter said.

On July 10, the USFS issued a report about the 10 most likely candidates for wilderness designation within Coconino National Forest. Included on the list are six lower Verde Valley areas, many named for the local landmarks they encompass: Cedar Bench, Black Mountain, Cimarron-Boulder, Davey’s, Walker Mountain and Hackberry.

Most of the potential wilderness areas are grouped together south of Beaver Creek and east of Camp Verde between Forest Roads 618 and 708, Forest Planner Yewah Lau said.

In the Walker Mountain potential wilderness area, the Gila chub, black hawk, lowland leopard frog and narrow-headed garter snake would benefit from the designation. In the Black Mountain potential wilderness area, the golden eagle would.Of the six, three were considered highly needed: Black Mountain, Walker Mountain and Hackberry, USFS records state. A high-need designation means “the area contributes considerably to recreational and ecological needs.”

Need is determined by several factors, including the location, size and type of other wilderness areas in the vicinity and the distance to get there.

Other factors include how much pressure there is from visitors who want to experience wilderness and whether the area is home to species of animals needing refuge only wilderness area designation can provide.

There are already 1.1 million acres of designated wilderness within 100 miles of Cottonwood and the Verde Valley, according to the USFS report.

In the Walker Mountain potential wilderness area, the Gila chub, black hawk, lowland leopard frog and narrow-headed garter snake would benefit from the designation. In the Black Mountain potential wilderness area, the golden eagle would, the report states.

Designation would ease pressure on several species in the Hackberry potential wilderness area, including the Mexican freetail bat, red bat, Townsend’s bat, spotted bat, greater western mastiff bat, lowland leopard frog, garter snake and yellow-billed cuckoo.Designation would ease pressure on several species in the Hackberry potential wilderness area, including the Mexican freetail bat, red bat, Townsend’s bat, spotted bat, greater western mastiff bat, lowland leopard frog, garter snake and yellow-billed cuckoo, according to the report.

“I want people to know this is very early in the process,” Lau said. “There’s really no proposal on the table yet. We really want to listen to the public before recommendations are made.”

“We want to hear about the trade-offs,” Dechter said. “In an area recommended as wilderness, what would be lost and what would be gained?”

Reports about the potential wilderness areas can be viewed online at www.fs.fed.us.

Defense attorneys for James Arthur Ray, the self-help author and motivational speaker charged with manslaughter, are requesting the Yavapai County Superior Court consider autopsy photos and other information as inadmissible evidence when the case goes to trial in late August.

James Arthur RayRay, 52, is charged with three counts of manslaughter stemming from the October sweat lodge incident that claimed three lives and injured several others at the Angel Valley Retreat Center southwest of Sedona.

Lizbeth Neuman, 49, of Michigan, Kirby Brown, 38, of New York, and James Shore, 40, of Wisconsin, died after exposure to conditions inside the sweat lodge, a large tent-like structure that was heated to
sauna-like temperatures.

In motions filed with the court, attorneys Brad Brian, Luis Li, Truc Do and Thomas Kelly are asking for the judge to exclude autopsy photos and information about Ray’s financial status and business dealings from being presented to a jury, as well as any information about a previous sweat lodge event five years ago where a man reportedly fainted.

The defense team argues the photos, financial information and earlier events have no bearing on the current case and would only serve to “confuse jurors” and “generate prejudice against Mr. Ray.”

The autopsy photos show nothing relevant to the cause of death, the motion states, a claim the defense backs up with an interview with one of the doctors involved with performing the autopsies.

Showing the photos would only “inflame the jury,” the motion argues.

Similarly, the defense believes that Ray’s financial status and business dealing have no bearing on this particular case.
The defense is also hoping to have the trial moved to another location outside the Verde Valley, but the prosecution is objecting because the defense submitted more paperwork than the rules of the court allow.

Kelly argued changing the location may provide more room for what he expects to be a heavily attended and publicized trial.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk had earlier told the court the state has no objections to the idea of moving the trial, since neither Ray nor the victims have any ties to the area.

The trial is set to begin Tuesday, Aug. 31, in front of Judge Warren Darrow.

The 67-year-old man accused of shooting 46-year-old Vonda Adams in Cornville in April was again arrested and charged with her murder Friday, July 2.

Yavapai County Sheriff's OfficeCriminal Investigations Bureau detectives from the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office made the arrest. The alleged homicide occurred in the 2600 block of Kadomoto Drive at the suspect's Cornville home.

He was originally arrested on April 28 following a preliminary investigation. He was released a short time later resulting from the need to further investigate the circumstances, according to YCSO.

Adams was a friend to one of the suspect's acquaintances and had disputes with him in the past, according to YCSO.

On July 2, a Yavapai County Grand Jury returned an indictment for one count of murder based on additional evidence presented by YCSO detectives. The suspect was booked at the Yavapai County Detention Center in Camp Verde and was due in court Saturday, July 3, for his initial appearance.

Further details regarding the investigation have not been released.

Firefighters and equipment from the Verde Valley continued to help battle a 12,000-acre wildfire north of Flagstaff on Tuesday, June 22, according to Verde Valley Fire District officials.

Firefighters and equipment from VVFD were first called in to fight the Hardy Fire, which broke out Saturday, June 19, and burned roughly 300 acres, VVFD Assistant Fire Chief Mike Flummer said.

The fire was about 30 percent contained as of Tuesday, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

On Sunday, June 20, two of the VVFD firefighters and a large pumper engine were transferred to the Schultz Fire, which flared Sunday morning and eventually spread to nearly 12,000 acres as of Tuesday due to high winds, Flummer said.

A VVFD water tender truck and crew were recalled, he said.

The Schultz Fire may have been sparked by a lost hiker who started a signal fire, Flummer said.

“This just shows how high the fire danger is,” he said. “Tell people to please be careful with open fires right now.”

The Schultz Fire started shortly after 11 a.m. and is located west of State Route 89, east of Flagstaff, and north of Mount Elden, according to the USFS.

Cottonwood immediately sent out six firefighters and two engines to fight the Schultz Fire in response to a call from Arizona State Forestry Division officials June 20, Cottonwood Fire Department Chief Mike Casson said.

“It was initial attack call,” Casson said. “That means they needed our help right now.”

Although one of the CFD engines was recalled Monday, June 21, two CFD firefighters and a pumper remained on scene as of Tuesday, Casson said.

VVFD sent two firefighters with special training to relieve its remaining crew Monday, June 21, Flummer said.

Casson said sending CFD firefighters to help fight the blaze does not compromise Cottonwood’s fire protection coverage.

“We’re not leaving the community unattended,” Casson said. “We’re shifting resources to help where the need is right now and we’re in a position to cover here. We are fully staffed.”

After two units were recalled Monday, CFD and VVFD each had one engine and two firefighters helping battle the blaze as of press time. Both crews are stationed near fire lines in residential neighborhoods and were assigned to protect structures.

No structures were damaged and no injuries were reported as of press time, according to the USFS.

Federal officials took jurisdiction of the fire June 21, which means local firefighters on scene were required to be specially certified to fight wildfires, or “red-carded,” Casson and Flummer said.

Once it exercised jurisdiction over the fire, USFS became obligated to pay the cost of firefighters sent by CFD and VVFD, Casson and Flummer said.

“Significant fire potential is predicted today for southeast Arizona and western New Mexico due to possible dry lightning. Dry, breezy winds are expected over the Four Corner States,” USFS announced Tuesday.

Both the Coconino and Prescott national forests are expected to issue rules banning campfires Wednesday, June 23, USFS announced Monday. For the latest information on fire restrictions, call (928) 777-5799.


Greg Ruland can be reached at 634-8551 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

As the sun went down, the people arrived in downtown Camp Verde for a little taste of the Cajun life in the desert.

A native of Metarie, La., Village of Oak Creek resident Tom White talks about eating crawfish earlier this year in his home state while chowing down on a big plate of the freshwater crustaceans at the Camp Verde Crawdad Festival on Friday, June 4. Before sitting down to eat himself, White helped several people at his table figure out how to crack open the crawdads. The annual Crawdad Festival has become a Camp Verde tradition over the past several years, but for many of those years, the town was the chief sponsor.

Tight budgets caused the town to pull out of sponsoring local events, but the Verde Valley Rangers Sheriff’s Posse stepped up once again to make the event a success.

Last year, the posse worked with the town to keep its right to sell beer at the festival. A money maker, beer sales help the rangers establish a fund for public service projects throughout the year.

It was smooth sailing this year, as the rangers had everything in place to pull off a memorable festival. The group went a step beyond this time around when it came to giving back to the community. The rangers offered thousands of dollars in cash and prizes to lucky winners of a raffle held both nights of the festival, Friday and Saturday, June 4 and 5.

Friday night, around 600 to 700 people showed up, according to organizer Kirk Smith.

“We had a good crowd,” Smith said. “Everyone seemed to be having fun.”

While the smell of cooking crawdads and shrimp dominated the ramada where visitors were chowing down, a fresher selection of the festival’s namesake arthropods were spending time at the bottom of a tub of murky water. Young Bryan Peoples was among several children doing his best to put an end to their relaxation. Peoples was crowded around the tub with a fishing rod in hand, baited with just a bit of hot dog.

“I’ve caught four already,” Peoples said.

He was lucky to have an expert on hand. Peoples’ dad, Sam Peoples, calls Glendale home. But he was raised in Louisiana, and is no stranger to catching the critters.

Hot dogs may work fair to middlin’ for catching crawdads in Camp Verde, but back in Louisiana, Sam Peoples used to use bacon to draw the critters out. The fact that crawdads seem to enjoy pork products aside, Sam Peoples said the trick is in keeping a steady hand.

“You’ve got to keep it steady,” Peoples said. “If you jerk your hand too much they won’t come out.”

His methods were seemingly on the mark, if his son’s record was any indication.

While the festival was a family-friendly event, the organizers still made an effort to keep a little Louisiana in the atmosphere. Right at the gate, the rangers were handing out beads, masks and other bits of flair for folks to get into that “laissez les bon temps rouler” spirit. And the good times did indeed roll as folks enjoyed a meal and a cold beverage listening to Aces ’N’ Eights, a regional band that knows how to draw a crowd.

There was even a costume contest just to make sure everyone was in the mood.

“It’s been fun,” said Sandy Walsh, visiting the Verde Valley over the weekend on a getaway from Phoenix. “We couldn’t pass up some good eats.”

Passage of Proposition 100 took some pressure off local school districts to cut more deeply into already reduced budgets.

New Mingus Union High School Principal Tamara Addis and school district Business Manager Kirk Waddle look at the new mathematics textbooks May 26 which, pending school board approval sometime later this summer, could be adopted by the MUHS district thanks to funding from the passage of Proposition 100. The books are on display in the district office for parents to examine.For the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District, the election made the controversial proposal to close Oak Creek School less likely in 2010-11, COCSD Business Manager David Snyder said.

COCSD already cut its budget using several strategies, including the termination of teacher contracts, Snyder said.

Belt-tightening imposed at the Mingus Union High School District in 2010-11 will probably remain in place through 2012-13, assuming the governing board gives final approval in July, MUHSD Business Manager Kirk Waddle said.

MUHSD cut its budget using several strategies, including the termination of teacher contracts and the restructuring of class schedules to eliminate teacher positions, Waddle said.

The total COCSD budget should come in just under $16 million, of which

$12.3 million will go for operations, including salaries, benefits, plant and ground maintenance, etc., Snyder said.

The total MUHSD budget should come in under $8.1 million, of which

$6.7 million will go for operations, including salaries, benefits, plant and ground maintenance, transportation and supplies, according to Waddle.

The maintenance and operations budget is up slightly at MUHSD thanks to an increase in enrollment, which translates into more money for the school, and savings from last year, Waddle said.

The COCSD maintenance and operations budget is down nearly $1 million compared to last year, Snyder said.

The kindergarten-to-eighth-grade district expects to eliminate 19 teaching positions due to a decline in enrollment and cut back the kindergarten to half days, he said.

“Fortunately, all the additional services our students receive such as P.E., music, computer labs, nursing and counseling are projected to remain the same,” Snyder said.

The story is the same at MUHSD.

“Because we made the necessary reductions starting in 2008-09, combined with attrition, and a couple of layoffs, no programs are impacted,” Waddle said.

The 2010-11 budgets for salaries and the like, however, are back to 2004-05 levels at MUHSD, Waddle said.

Some MUHSD class sizes may also increase in the core courses, he said.

“The economy also has made it necessary to potentially change from the four block schedule to a modified block schedule, which requires fewer teachers,” Waddle said.

“We’ve kept our baseline spending even with the 2008-09 budget and next year’s budget should be very similar and so we are in good shape going into the next two to three years,” he said.

Snyder was less upbeat. He expects more cuts down the road.

“There may be a possibility of an extension of federal funding, as in additional federal stimulus funds, but I do not anticipate any additional revenue from state sources,” he said.

The COCSD board is expected to give final approval to its budget Tuesday, July 13.

The MUHSD board is expected to give final approval to its budget Thursday, July 15.

Crime statistics in Yavapai County look pretty good compared to four years ago when the Methamphetamine Advisory Task Force Yavapai County Substance Abuse Coalition came into being.

Whether the decrease is due to MATForce’s existence is difficult to pinpoint, MATForce Co-Chairman Doug Bartosh said. Yet, it has had great successes in bringing about awareness, education and legislation regarding drug abuse. Bartosh co-chairs with Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk.

“With any crime statistics there are a lot of factors that play into it. Certainly MATForce is a major factor,” Bartosh said. “The most important element with MATForce is it is not just one entity; it’s everybody in the community.”

Former Sedona Police Chief Joe VernierRecently retired Sedona Police Department Chief Joe Vernier said MATForce is probably one of the most effective, private, public and nonprofit partnerships he has seen in 38-plus years of law enforcement.

“Working with different agencies on education, treatment and in the courts has made far greater impact than law enforcement and the courts alone,” Vernier said. “I’ve seen people turn corners.”

Vernier likened the drug crime process before MATForce to a circle. People would get arrested, incarcerated, released, arrested, then incarcerated.

“From a traditional cop’s perspective, dealing with chemical addictions we see the same people. The cycle continues, sometimes for generations. Where MATForce has had a real impact is to break that cycle,” Vernier said. “When MATForce came together and included resources, all of a sudden there is help for these people.”

MATForce has representatives from law enforcement, business, schools, youth organizations, parents and caregivers, faith-based communities, government, the media, health care agencies, and the treatment and recovery community.

“We here in Sedona had some major decreases since 2006. MATForce is one factor — a significant factor,” Vernier said.

In Cottonwood, Bartosh, the former police chief and now city manager, said the crime rate is down 40 percent, and in Yavapai County, felony crimes are down 30 percent.

“As we all know, a major portion [of felony crimes] are drug related,” Bartosh said.

Methamphetamine Advisory Task ForceIn the 2010 Executive Summary for MATForce, which presented figures for 2008, the percentage of youth in the county who used alcohol during their lifetime dropped for all three grades polled: 12th, 10th and eighth. Bartosh said 2010 figures were not yet available.

In the 12th grade in 2006, 80.6 percent admitted to using alcohol. Two years after MATForce started, the percentage dropped to 78.9. For 10th grade the percentage went from 77.7 to 68.3 and eighth grade dropped from 51.8 percent in 2006 and to 49.7 percent by 2008.

Use of marijuana showed similar decreases, but with methamphetamine the decreases were more drastic. Twelfth-grade students went from 6.1 percent admitting use in 2006 to 3.5 percent in 2008. Tenth-grade figures dropped from 3.7 percent to 2.7 percent and eighth grade numbers decreased from 2.7 percent to 1.3 percent.

Within MATForce people saw a problem with drugs and were anxious to do something about it, Bartosh said.

More than 300 community members became involved in the fight against drug use through MATForce. A Dump the Drugs program was instituted and has taken nearly one ton of over-the-counter and unused prescription drugs out of the hands of abusers, especially teens. MATForce instituted a speakers’ bureau; helped put decals on school buses; put substance abuse messages on movie theater screens; put box topper advertisements on pizza boxes; produced and distributed thousands of pens, lip balm,

T-shirts, cups, bumper stickers and Faces of Meth posters.

MATForce has participated in multiple community events; placed large banners across key community streets; organized community forums; and trained coalition members on drug use identification, substance abuse trends and other relevant topics.

The coalition has provided materials to schools, implemented youth video and poster contests, conducted parenting classes, created a service provider resource directory, created a recovery coaching program and other assistive programs.

One of the biggest events is the annual March Against Meth parade in Cottonwood, along with a community fair.

The list is long for a 4-year-old organization, Bartosh said.

Cottonwood City Manager and MATForce Co-Chairman Doug Bartosh“[Cottonwood] was the first to put Sudafed behind the counter, which put a halt to easy access of the main ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine, pseudoephedrine. Mexico has made pseudoephedrine illegal. That has cut off the supply as well,” Bartosh said. “Unfortunately, rural areas are experiencing ‘smurfing.’ Drug addicts get kids to buy Sudafed, then they make their meth.”

Due to this new trend, MATForce is looking at getting legislation passed to make pseudoephedrine prescription-only.

“We don’t want to see that epidemic return,” Bartosh said.

Having a number of people from different agencies involved has allowed the group to keep up with the new trends in the drug world. For example, Bartosh said MATForce knew prescription drugs would fill the void left by the lack of methamphetamine.

“This has been a county-wide effort. Sheila Polk really deserves a lot of credit. It was her vision,” Bartosh said.

Bartosh’s drive behind MATForce stemmed from his first year as the Cottonwood Police Department chief.

“We had six drug-related homicides in 2005: The one on State Route 260 where four people were killed by someone driving with meth in his system. Then there were two people at an apartment complex killed by a man on meth,” Bartosh said. “Since then we’ve had one, maybe two.”

Another way Bartosh said he knows MATForce has made an impact is through conversations with narcotics officers.

“They tell me it’s tougher to get a buy on any drugs, and they’re not seeing as much meth,” Bartosh said.

For more information about MATForce, call 708-0100.

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