ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — A local church that performs hallucinogenic tea ceremonies involving a Schedule I drug each weekend is now the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit.
Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray first exposed the Soul Quest Church in 2016. Then two years later, she reported on the death of 22-year-old Brandon Begley at a retreat at the church two years ago.
Ray spoke with Begley’s family about the lawsuit they filed that they hope will close the church for good.
As of Monday, there is an ayahuasca retreat scheduled at the church later this week.
During those ceremonies, despite not having approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the church uses the Schedule I drug DMT in its ayahuasca tea.
In 2018, church owner Christopher Young told investigators Begley became violently sick after participating in an ayahuasca cleanse as well as a “kambo” ceremony, which involved being injected with poisonous secretions of Amazon tree frogs.
Young said his reaction was beyond the typical “purge” associated with ayahuasca.
Channel 9 uncovered that there was a three-hour delay between when church leaders noticed Begley was in distress and when they called for help.
“He thought it was going to be a good thing for him and for it to end up like has been completely devastating,” said John Paul Begley.
The new lawsuit accuses Young, his co-founder and the church for failing to inform Begley that he was ingesting a controlled substance as well as failing to recognize his signs of illness and failing to call for help in a timely manner.
“It's really to make it known that his death is something that could've been prevented,” said attorney Will Chapman.
Medical records show Begley's death was caused by an extreme change in sodium levels attributed to overconsumption of water.
In Young’s response to the lawsuit he argues Begley signed a waiver and that the 22-year-old was properly warned of the risks of both the substances being used and of drinking too much water stating by continuing to drink water after being warned Begley caused his own death.
“My whole life is turned upside down and they’re just business as usual,” John Paul Begley said.