The Dominican Republic, long one of the top Caribbean destinations for U.S. travelers, is in the spotlight for reasons no country heavily dependent on tourism ever wants to be associated with – a rash of deaths of seemingly healthy people who succumbed under oddly similar circumstances.
So far, we know of at least six American tourists who have died — four this year, two last year –with word of their deaths coming not from U.S. or Dominican officials, but in dribs and drabs from relatives or friends who come forward, driven by concerns that the official cause may not be credible or tell the whole the story.
Yvette Monique Sport, 51,checks into the Bahia Principe resort in Punta Cana with her fiancé, Howard Taltoan, and some friends. Sport has a drink from the room mini bar. Sport, of Pennsylvania, takes a shower and goes to bed, her sister Felecia Nieves tells local reporters.
The next morning, Taltoan tries to wake Sport, but she is unresponsive.
“He tried to nudge her again and there was no sound and then she was gone,” Nieves says.
Her death certificate lists the cause as a heart attack, she says.
David Harrison, 45, of Maryland, checks into the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana. He and his wife, Dawn McCoy, are there with their 12-year-old son to celebrate their wedding anniversary.
After several days, on July 12, Harrison starts to feel ill, McCoy tells Fox & Friends. The next day, after lying in bed, still not feeling well, he decides to join his wife and friends in the hotel casino. McCoy notices there’s a “strange smell…a very potent smell” coming from her husband. In the casino, he begins feeling ill again and tells McCoy he wants to return to the room. She wants to call for an ambulance, but is told by hotel staff that the resort doctor must check Harrison first. McCoy says it takes a long time for the doctor to arrive, and her husband dies.
The official cause of death is pulmonary edema and heart attack.
“My husband was a very fit, very healthy person when he passed away,” she tells Inside Edition.
“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 tells local TV station WTOP. “We went down there as a happy family, and we came home a broken family. I came home a widow and my 12-year-old son came home fatherless.”
He drinks Scotch from the minibar in his room. The drink does not come from the kind of miniature bottles found in such minibars and served on airplanes, but from a dispenser, his family tells Fox News.
He becomes critically ill and is taken to the hospital, where he is kept for a couple of days. He dies on the day of his stepson’s wedding. Authorities say the cause is a heart attack.
May 25, 2019
Miranda Schaup-Werner, a 41-year-old psychotherapist from Pennylvania, and her husband, Dan, check into the Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville in La Romana, one of the Dominican Republic’s largest cities. They are there to celebrate their ninth wedding anniversary.
In the evening, she has an alcoholic beverage from the minibar, the family spokesman, Jay McDonald, who is Dan Werner’s brother-in-law, tells Fox News. Schaup, who has been fine until that point, starts to get up from a chair and shrieks, calling out for her husband, who is in another part of the room. She collapses and is declared dead when the medical help arrives.
Hotel employees speak to Dan Werner, asking him questions, including some about Schaup’s health. He mentions a heart condition that was diagnosed about 15 years earlier, but that was not ongoing or considered serious.
Her death certificate mentions pulmonary edema and cardiac abnormalities. The cause of death is ruled a heart attack.
At some point either on Wednesday, May 29, or early Thursday, May 30, Holmes contacts hotel staff, saying he is feeling unwell. When they offer to give him medical treatment, he declines. Some published reports say it was because of the cost. Holmes and Day are scheduled to fly back to Maryland on May 30, but they do not check out. A hotel employee goes to their room, where both are found dead.
A preliminary autopsy lists pulmonary edema, and internal bleeding, including in their pancreases. Holmes is listed as having an enlarged heart and cirrhosis of the liver.
Their deaths become national news. Hotel officials and Dominican authorities stress that medication for blood pressure, and other conditions, are found in their room, though they provide no context.
Unaware of the other deaths, relatives of the couple go public, and tell reporters that they find the sudden passing of both Holmes and Day suspicious and that they don’t think hotel staff or authorities are being truthful.
Their bodies are returned to the U.S. on July 11. The family attorney, Steven Bullock, says to reporters that the family plans to have autopsies conducted before Holmes and Day are buried.
The Dominican tourism minister, Javier Garcia, says the deaths are isolated incidents, and that the public must keep in mind that the island has been host to more than 30 million tourists in the last five years.
“These are situations that can occur in any country, in any hotel in the world,” he said. “It’s regrettable but sometimes it happens.”
The Tourism Ministry says it wants to “extend its sincerest condolences to the families and friends of those affected in the tragic events that have been reported over the last few weeks in the country.”
The Dominican tourism officials note that U.S. agencies are working closely with Dominican investigators, citing U.S. Embassy comments about both countries “actively working in collaboration…to ensure that all U.S. citizens are and feel safe within the country.”
The FBI is conducting deeper analyses of toxicological results, the statement says, warning that conclusions may take up to a month and urging “patience during this process.”