Sweat Lodge Deaths
Sweat Lodge Death
June 23, 2002 — 2:17 a.m.
A 34-year-old Redding woman died while participating in a sweat lodge ritual to observe the summer solstice in rural El Dorado County near Placerville.
Kirsten (Kris) Babcock died Friday after spending more than an hour sealed in a makeshift sweat lodge consisting of a wood frame covered in airtight plastic, authorities said.
David Hawker, 36, of Union City was inside the lodge with Babcock and also died.
Investigators did not know the cause of death Saturday but said the two could have died from a lack of oxygen. An autopsy will be performed Monday, sheriff's officials said.
"Our investigators collected herbs and water and other articles from the lodge to see if there are any toxins or anything present to contribute to these deaths," said El Dorado County sheriff's Lt. Kevin House.
Babcock and Hawker were in a remote area of the El Dorado National Forest for an American Indian ritual described by some of the 35 participants as a "vision quest," House said.
Cecina Hines, 30, of Redding, Babcock's partner for almost four years, remembered her Saturday night as a "very loving, creative, always happy person. She had the most beautiful smile. Everyone loved her so much. She's going to be missed by many people."
Jeremy Hoeber of Redding, a friend of Babcock's for six years, remembered her as a "super fun, loving, artistic person. She was just a great all-around human being," he said.
Babcock was known as a talented artist who loved to paint, sculpt and quilt. She recently took up making soap, Hines said.
"Anything this woman touched she could do," she said.
One of her favorite artistic subjects was her five dogs, all rescued from animal shelters, Hines said.
Babcock was born and raised in Redding and graduated from the University of California at Davis with a degree in art and worked at Kinko's on Churn Creek Road in Redding, Hines said.
Hines said Babcock had been practicing for this vision quest for more than a year.
She said the purpose of the quest is for people to be balanced in the "spiritual," "emotional," "mental" and "physical" aspects of life.
"It was almost like counseling," Hines said. "It's about people moving on and becoming who they really are. . . . It's about being OK being a spiritual person."
About 3:56 a.m. Friday, sheriff's dispatchers received a call reporting two people who were unconscious and not breathing during a sweat lodge ritual in the Sopiago Springs/Five Corners area of the national forest. Four people took part in the sweat lodge ceremony, normally a four-hour event, sheriff's officials said.
After about 1 hours, a female participant exited the lodge and complained of dizziness and nausea, sheriff's officials said.
Several minutes later, witnesses told authorities they became concerned when they could no longer hear chanting, normally a part of the ceremony.
At that point, they entered the lodge to check on the welfare of the three remaining participants, sheriff's officials said.
During this time, people outside the sweat lodge reported smelling "unusual odors" coming from the lodge, sheriff's officials said.
Other participants then went inside and found Babcock and Hawker unresponsive. The fourth person in the sweat lodge was able to crawl out of the lodge by himself, sheriff's officials said.
Medical personnel attempted to revive Babcock and Hawker but were unsuccessful, sheriff's officials said.
Hines said she and other family members were with Babcock at the vision quest. Babcock's brother gave her CPR until paramedics arrived, Hines said.
She said part of the retreat was telling the ones you love how much you care about them.
"In a way I got to have closure with her before she died," Hines said. "I got to say goodbye to her."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Sunday, June 23, 2002