Madison County

Suit: Woman’s collapse, death due to negligence at Berea church

The white building with black shutters on Chestnut Street in Berea is the Oklevueha Native American Church of the Peaceful Mountain Way. This photo was taken in September 2016, shortly after a woman collapsed there the previous month. She was pronounced dead at a Berea hospital.
The white building with black shutters on Chestnut Street in Berea is the Oklevueha Native American Church of the Peaceful Mountain Way. This photo was taken in September 2016, shortly after a woman collapsed there the previous month. She was pronounced dead at a Berea hospital. gkocher1@herald-leader.com

The estate of a woman who died last year after collapsing at a Native American church seeks damages from the Berea church, its owners and its affiliated nonprofit organization in Utah.

A lawsuit filed last month by Katherine Lowry Logan, a court-appointed representative of the family, alleges in the suit that Lindsay Marie Poole, 33, of Anderson, S.C., died of “negligence.”

Poole was pronounced dead Aug. 27 at St. Joseph Berea Hospital after collapsing at Oklevueha Native American Church of the Peaceful Mountain Way in Berea. The incident was investigated by Berea police, but no criminal charges have been filed.

The suit names as defendants the Oklevueha Earthwalks Native American Church of Utah Inc. and its “owner” and spiritual leader, James W. “Flaming Eagle” Mooney, as well as the Oklevueha Native American Church of the Peaceful Mountain Way in Berea and its “owners,” Demian and Tina Gover of Richmond.

The Govers and a spokesman for the Utah organization could not be immediately reached Wednesday for comment.

The suit says that as the result of negligence, Poole “endured pain, suffering and mental anguish before her death.” Poole’s estate incurred medical, funeral and other expenses as well, the suit says.

The suit doesn’t go into details about Poole’s death or why she collapsed.

The church’s website said “Oklevueha Native American Church accepts indigenous earth-based healing sacraments as central to our established religious belief.”

Those sacraments include ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic brew that indigenous people of the Americas believe connects them to a higher power.

Ayahuasca contains Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which is a controlled substance that is ordinarily not legal to possess or distribute according to U.S. law. However, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 makes exceptions for people with sincerely held religious beliefs.

The Berea church website says ayahuasca and other sacraments are only for members. The suit says Poole was an “invitee” of the church.

The suit seeks a trial by jury as well as compensatory and punitive damages and attorney’s fees.

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