Is it safe to travel to the Dominican Republic? Everything we know about tourist deaths

At least six Americans have died at resorts in the Dominican Republic in the last year.
At least six Americans have died at resorts in the Dominican Republic in the last year.

Multiple tourist deaths at all-inclusive resorts in the Dominican Republic have raised alarm bells for those planning to vacation at the popular Caribbean destination.

Now, authorities in the Dominican Republic are looking to the FBI to help investigate the mysterious deaths and strange circumstances that have accompanied each incident.

This announcement comes as more families are coming forward about getting mysteriously ill.

Tourism officials in the Dominican Republic, the U.S. and Canada say it’s still safe to visit the country. But many are approaching booking a vacation there with caution.

Here’s a timeline of the incidents that have occurred and what’s next:

What deaths have occurred?

June 2018: Yvette Monique Sport

Fifty-one-year-old Yvette Monique Sport traveled to the Bahia Principe Resort in Punta Cana in June 2018 with her fiancé.

Her sister says Sport took a drink from the mini bar in her room, took a shower, and then went to bed and never woke up.

Sport’s death certificate lists a heart attack as the cause of death. But her sister Felicia Nieves says she’s become increasingly suspicious in the wake of other deaths reported at resorts in the last few months.

July 2018: David Harrison

David Harrison, from southern Maryland, died while vacationing at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana.

An autopsy revealed that Harrison had a heart attack and a pulmonary edema, which is caused by excess fluid in the lungs.

Dawn McCoy, Harrison’s wife, told Business Insider that she, her husband and their then 12-year-old son were celebrating their anniversary at the Caribbean resort when Harrison fell ill.

Nine days into their vacation, she says Harrison became sick and woke up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat.

“He couldn’t talk, he was unable to sit up, everything that came out was just grunting,” she told INSIDER. “He was trying to talk, but nothing would come out.”

She says her husband was healthy and had annual checkups, but he did take medication for high blood pressure. McCoy is now requesting a toxicology report from the funeral director who dealt with her case, after she heard of deaths she believes might be similar circumstances to her husband’s.

April 2019: Robert Wallace

While visiting the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana, Robert Wallace became sick soon after drinking scotch from the minibar in his hotel room, according to his niece Chloe Arnold.

He was in the Dominican Republic to attend his step-son’s wedding, she told Fox News.

After falling ill that evening, Wallace, 67, died three days later. Arnold said authorities in the Dominican have yet to provide a cause of death.

May 2019: Miranda Schaup-Werner

Miranda Schaup-Werner, 41, had travelled to the Bahía Príncipe’s Bouganville resort to celebrate her wedding anniversary.

Her husband Dan Werner says that after she had a drink from the hotel’s minibar, she collapsed and was unable to be revived.

Dominican officials provided an autopsy that revealed Schaup-Werner died of internal hemorrhaging, pulmonary edema and an enlarged heart.

May 2019: Nathaniel Edward Holmes and Cynthia Ann Day

Just a few days after Schaup-Werner died, a couple on vacation in the Dominican Republic also died under similar circumstances.

Nathaniel Edward Holmes, 63, and Cynthia Ann Day, 49, had just gotten engaged before they went on their vacation to the Dominican. After they missed their checkout time, hotel staff went to the room and found them both collapsed, and unresponsive. There were no signs of violence.

Dominican police revealed that both had died of respiratory failure and pulmonary edema.

June 2019: Joseph Allen

CNN reported that an American man was found dead in the Hotel Terra Linda in Sosua, Dominican Republic. Joseph Allen, 55, was apparently a regular at the hotel, and officials in the Dominican said he died of cardiac arrest. There were no signs of violence.

Are these deaths connected?

On June 11, the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic released a statement saying they are “actively” working with the government in the country along with the private sector to ensure U.S. citizens are safe when they visit.

They said a connection had not been established between the incidents, but they are investigating.

“Dominican authorities have asked for FBI assistance for further toxicology analysis on the recent Bahia Principe, La Romana cases and our FBI colleagues tell us that those results may take up to 30 days,” the statement reads.

One expert, Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security told the New York Times that symptoms like pulmonary edema could be consistent with poisoning (though accidental).

“It’s rare for travelers to die of unknown causes like this, and to have a high number of them in a relatively short period of time is alarming, shocking, sad,” Inglesby said.

But without a toxicology report, it’s difficult to say if there’s truly any connection between the deaths, he said.

What has the response been from the hotels?

Officials from the Hard Rock hotel said in a public statement that they are “deeply saddened” by the deaths and are waiting for the release of official reports on the deaths.

The Bahía Príncipe hotel chain said in a statement on their website that “inaccurate and false information has been spread or circulated” by media and social media about the incidents, but they don’t state what exactly is false.

They note they are collaborating completely with authorities and will not make more statements so they don’t interfere with the investigation.

Employees have received threats since the story started going viral, and they emphasize that they disagree with false information being spread and that their hotels remain safe.

Who else has gotten sick?

Other travelled have started to speak out about becoming sick, with one couple deciding to sue after their stay at the the Grand Bahia Príncipe La Romana.

Kaylynn Knull, 29 and Tom Schwander 33, are suing the chain of hotels for $1 million, their lawyer told the New York Times, after they became severely ill during their stay in summer 2018.

Symptoms for the couple included headache, blurry vision, nausea and diarrhea, and their family doctor told them it sounded like they had been exposed to a class of insecticide chemicals.

Recently, a group of high school students reportedly fell ill at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana, where three Americans died between April and May.

Seventy-five students along with their chaperones were staying at the resort in early June on a graduation trip, when multiple people in the group became sick.

Seven students were taken to the hospital after feeling nauseous, having body chills, cramping and sweating, reports the New York Post.

Is it safe to travel to the Dominican Republic?

Global Affairs Canada said in a statement to Yahoo News that they are unaware of any Canadian citizens being impacted.

They noted the government recommends a high degree of caution in the Dominican Republic, but that’s due to a high crime rate.

The U.S. State Department hasn’t issued a travel warning for the country and American officials have said the deaths are not connected, but they are investigating.

The Dominican Republic has been a top tourist destination for North Americans in the last few years, with over 2 million Americans visiting in 2017, and about 830,000 Canadians visiting, according to the ministry of tourism in the Caribbean nation.

Will you be changing your vacation plans? Or do you believe the deaths are an odd coincidence? Let us know in the comments.

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