UPDATE (1:03 a.m. June 25): A New York man ― identified by local news reports as 56-year-old Vittorio Caruso ― died while vacationing in the Dominican Republic earlier this month, the State Department confirmed on Monday. His death brings the total number of American tourists who’ve died in the Caribbean country since June 2018 to at least 10.
This month alone, at least three Americans have suddenly died while holidaying in the Dominican Republic. Leyla Cox, a 53-year-old New York woman, died in her room at Excellence Resorts in Punta Cana on June 10. The resort said Cox had died of a heart attack but her son told WCBS-TV that he didn’t believe his mother had died of natural causes.
Three days after Cox’s death, Joseph Allen, a 55-year-old New Jersey native, was found dead in his room at Terra Linda Resort in Sosua. Allen was in good physical health, his family said. His cause of death has not been released.
Caruso, the most recently reported fatality, died on June 17, his family told News 12 Long Island. Family members said they were having difficulty “getting straight answers” from Dominican authorities but said Caruso was believed to have died after suffering respiratory distress and possibly a heart attack.
As the Dominican Republic faces heightened global scrutiny ― and an FBI investigation ― following the rash of tourist deaths, the nation’s officials have continued to insist that the deaths are nothing out of the ordinary.
“The Dominican Republic is a safe country,” Tourism Minister Francisco Javier Garcia told reporters last week. “There is no such thing as mysterious deaths in the Dominican Republic. There is not an avalanche of deaths.”
“Most of the autopsies show the tourists died of natural causes,” Garcia said, adding that the number of American tourist deaths over the past 12 months was actually lower than over the same period in 2011 and 2015 when the death toll of American tourists was 15.
Investigators are reportedly looking into whether alcohol ― specifically of the bootlegged and unregulated variety ― could be linked to any of the deaths.
The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino said last week that it was removing liquor dispensers from guest room minibars at its resort in Punta Cana following the deaths of two Americans at the hotel. The general manager of the resort told CNN, however, that the decision to remove the dispensers had been made independently and wasn’t linked to the two deaths.
At least six Americans have mysteriously died at resorts across the Dominican Republic since June 2018, and several others have reported falling violently ill while vacationing there.
Local authorities have not yet established a connection between the incidents, according to the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo. And though Dominican tourism officials say it’s safe for Americans to continue to visit, some family members of the deceased remain skeptical.
Here’s what we know ― and don’t know ― about the incidents so far:
Timeline Of Deaths
Yvette Monique Sport of Pennsylvania died in June 2018 during a trip with her fiancé to the Bahía Príncipe resort in Punta Cana on the eastern tip of the island.
The 51-year-old consumed a drink from her room’s minibar, took a shower, went to bed and never woke up, according to her sister Felecia Nieves.
The official cause of death listed on her death certificate is a heart attack. But Nieves told NBC10 that she became suspicious recently after hearing about other Americans who died under similar circumstances.
“There is something dirty at the bottom of this,” Nieves told Reuters.
David Harrison, 45, had been vacationing with his wife and 12-year-old son at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana when he suddenly fell ill and died.
The Maryland resident had visited the resort several times before and was “relatively healthy,” his wife Dawn McCoy told The Washington Post. But Harrison said he felt sick one afternoon and went to their room to take a nap.
Hours later, McCoy said she discovered her husband sweating profusely as he lay in bed, exuding a pungent odor. She called for help, but Harrison had reportedly died by the time the doctor arrived.
Harrison’s death certificate pointed to a heart attack, atherosclerosis and pulmonary edema, a condition caused by excess fluid in the lungs, as the causes of his death.
McCoy said she emailed the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic last week to see if a toxicology report had been done after hearing about the other tourists’ deaths, the Post reported.
Robert Wallace of California also died at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana. He was in the country to attend his stepson’s wedding but suddenly fell after drinking scotch from the minibar in his hotel room, his niece, Chloe Arnold, told Fox News.
The 67-year-old “started feeling very sick” after consuming the drink and developed “blood in his urine and stool right afterward,” Arnold said.
Wallace died three days later. Dominican authorities have yet to provide his family with a cause of death, according to Arnold.
Miranda Schaup-Werner, 41, of Pennsylvania, died on May 25 hours after arriving at the Bahía Príncipe’s Bouganville resort, about 60 miles west of Punta Cana, to celebrate her wedding anniversary.
After enjoying a drink from the hotel room’s minibar, Schaup-Werner suddenly cried out in pain and collapsed, according to her husband, Dan Werner.
Werner, a doctor, tried to revive his wife by performing CPR but it was too late, family spokesman Jay McDonald told WPXI.
An autopsy report suggested Schaup-Werner died of internal hemorrhaging, pulmonary edema and an enlarged heart, Dominican officials said.
Five days after Schaup-Werner’s death, a Maryland couple died at Bahía Príncipe La Romana, located just a few hundred feet away from the company’s Bouganville resort.
Nathaniel Edward Holmes, 63, and Cynthia Ann Day, 49, were recently engaged before their trip to the Dominican Republic. Hotel staffers found them unresponsive in their room on May 30 after they missed their scheduled checkout time.
Similar to Schaup-Werner, Holmes and Day each died of respiratory failure and pulmonary edema, Dominican police said. Hotel staffers reportedly did not find any signs of violence.
More Tourists Speak Out
After seeing news reports of the deaths, several other Americans have come forward to say they suffered similar symptoms during recent trips to the Dominican Republic.
Kaylynn Knull and Tom Schwander, a couple from Colorado, said they developed nausea, dizziness, diarrhea and headaches during their stay at Bahía Príncipe La Romana in June 2018.
They filed a lawsuit against the resort after U.S. doctors told them the illness was likely caused by chemicals typically found in pesticides, CBS News reported.
Awilda Montes of New York claimed she vomited blood after drinking a soda from her hotel room’s mini-bar at Bahía Príncipe’s Bouganville resort in October. She said she was immediately brought to a local clinic, where she was treated for pain and vomiting.
Are The Incidents Connected?
The U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo said last week that local authorities had not established a connection between the incidents. Dominican investigators have asked the FBI to assist with further toxicology analysis. The results of these tests may take up to 30 days, the State Department said in a statement Tuesday.
Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told The New York Times that it’s “unconscionable” that toxicology reports haven’t yet been released or completed. He said the symptoms reportedly exhibited by the patients appear to be “consistent with poisoning.”
“It’s rare for travelers to die of unknown causes like this,” Inglesby told the Times. “It’s something that investigators should be able to get to the bottom of.”
The Bahía Príncipe hotel chain said in a statement last week that the company would cooperate “completely” with the ongoing investigations.
“We reiterate our firm commitment to collaborating completely with the authorities and hope for a prompt resolution of their inquiries and actions and will not be making any further statements that may interfere with them,” according to Bahía Príncipe’s statement.
Bahía Príncipe said its employees have received threats after the deaths and warned that it could take legal action against anyone who disseminates “false information” that “threatens the image and reputation of the company.”
Hard Rock officials said in a statement that they are “deeply saddened” by the deaths of Wallace and Harrison. “We are currently waiting for official reports regarding these deaths,” according to the statement.
Meanwhile, family members are left wondering if these incidents could have been prevented.
“We have so many questions,” Arnold, Wallace’s niece, told Fox News. “We don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”