What’s Behind String Of Mysterious U.S. Tourist Deaths In The Dominican Republic?

World health officials have begun investigating the hotels associated with the sudden deaths of American tourists.

By Sharon Lynn Pruitt
Edward Nathaniel Holmes and Cynthia Day

A number of American tourists have died during recent trips to the Dominican Republic, sparking widespread concern and an FBI investigation.

Family members confirmed Monday that Robert Bell Wallace, a 67-year-old resident of California, died in April after staying at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana, marking yet another mysterious tourist death to have taken place at a resort on the island, the New York Post reports. While an official cause of death has yet to be released, Wallace’s niece said that three days before her uncle died at a hospital, he drank scotch from the hotel mini bar and got sick almost immediately after, Fox News reports.

“He was fine,” his niece, Chloe Arnold, told the outlet. “He and his wife arrived there at around midnight on April 10. On April 11 he had scotch from the minibar. He started feeling very sick, he had blood in his urine and stool right afterward.”

The FBI confirmed to Fox News on Friday that their organization is working with authorities in the Dominican Republic to investigate what appears to be a string of deaths.

David Harrison, a 45-year-old Maryland resident, died under similarly mysterious circumstances after staying at the same resort as Wallace a year prior, in July 2018, the Post reports.

His widow, Dawn McCoy, told WTOP earlier this month that she, her husband, and their son visited the country last year to celebrate their wedding anniversary but that her husband suddenly fell ill during the trip. He died without warning, and while officials in the country listed his cause of death as pulmonary edema and a heart attack, McCoy, who said that her husband was in good health before the trip, began expressing doubts as news spread that other tourists were dying in similar ways.

“I started seeing all these other people that were dying of the same exact causes, which made me start to second guess. I no longer feel like my husband died of natural causes,” McCoy told the outlet.

A number of other tourists died after allegedly having a drink from their hotel’s mini bar. Miranda Schaup-Werner, a 41-year-old Pennsylvania resident, died in her hotel room at the Luxury Bahia Principe in Bouganville last month after drinking something from the mini bar, according to a report from the New York Post. The deceased woman’s family say that she died of pulmonary edema and respiratory failure.

Similarly, the sister of a deceased Philadelphia woman, Yvette Monique Short, said that the woman died after staying at the Bahia Principe last year and having a drink from the mini bar, according to the outlet.

She went to bed and never woke up, Short's family said, according to Fox 2 Detroit. The 51-year-old's cause of death is listed as a heart attack, and her family says that while authorities promised to send them a toxicology report within three months, they've yet to receive one a year later.

Still more tourists have died after staying at a resort in the Dominican Republic. A Maryland couple, 63-year-old Nathaniel Holmes and 49-year-old Cynthia Ann Day, were found dead in their rooms at the Bahia Principe hotel late last month, NBC Washington reports. While their official cause of death has yet to be released, authorities say that there were “no signs of violence” present, according to the outlet.

The couple’s hotel — the Grand Bahía Principe La Romana — was right next to where Schaup-Werner was staying, according to a report from the Post. The pair checked in on the same day as Schaup-Werner, only to be found dead a mere five days later.

In a statement released on June 5, the Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts insisted that they’d followed hotel protocol when handling the situations involving Schaup-Werner and Holmes and Day.

“To date, there are no indications of any correlation between these two unfortunate incidents,” their statement reads. “In both circumstances, established security protocols were followed, and we have maintained open communication with the authorities to provide information and clarification for each case.”

When discussing the deaths with reporters on June 6, Tourism Minister Francisco Garcia described them as “isolated incidents,” according to CNN.

“In the last five years, over 30 million tourists have visited the Dominican Republic, but this is the first time the international media report such an alarming situation. ... These are isolated incidents and the Dominican Republic is a safe destination,” he said.

One Colorado couple who stayed at the Grand Bahia Principe Hotel La Romana last year has filed a suit against the hotel’s owners, CNN reports. Kaylynn Knull, 29, and 33-year-old Tom Schwander both fell ill while staying at the hotel, so much so that they were forced to fly back home earlier than intended. They suspect that they were poisoned by the improper use of insecticides in the hotel, and believe that what they endured may be related to how the other tourists died.

“If talking about what happened to us helps find out what happened to those people — God bless their families. They deserve answers,” Knull told the outlet.

American authorities have been largely tight-lipped on the matter. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and other American and international agencies traveled to hotels owned by Bahia Principe Hotels and Resorts this month to conduct testing, according to Fox News. Some results are expected to be made public as early as Friday.

"We are awaiting the results, especially in regards to the tragic death of the couple from Maryland," a spokeswoman for the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism told Fox News on Friday. "We want these tests and investigation to be carried out carefully and professionally."

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