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9 American Tourists Have Died in the Dominican Republic

June 24, 2019
In The News

Earlier this month, Amir Allen traveled to the Dominican Republic to meet his father for Father’s Day. But when he got off the plane, he learned that his father, Joseph Allen, 55, from New Jersey, had died of cardiac arrest, said Amir’s uncle, Jason Allen.

Joseph Allen had arrived on the island on June 9 to celebrate a friend’s birthday and was found dead in his room at the Terra Linda Resort in Sosua on June 10.

“He was a funny guy, full of life,” said Jason Allen, who noted that his brother, though heavyset, was healthy.

Mr. Allen is at least the ninth American to die in the Dominican Republic over the last year. Because of the similarities among the deaths, family members of the deceased have suggested that they are connected and have raised suspicions about the resorts where they stayed. Mr. Allen’s family has joined the other families in calling on Dominican and American authorities to investigate the cause of the deaths and if there is any connection between them.

“I think there’s probably some kind of negligence somewhere,” Jason Allen said on Thursday.

But on Friday, Francisco Javier García, the tourism minister of the Dominican Republic, said the deaths of eight Americans in the country were not part of a mysterious crop of fatalities, The Associated Press reported. Mr. García said that autopsies had revealed that five tourists had died of natural causes, and that Dominican officials believed the three others currently undergoing further toxicological testing would reveal the same cause of death. “We want the truth to prevail,” Mr. García said. “There is nothing to hide here.”

News of Mr. Allen’s death came just days after Leyla Cox, 53, from Staten Island, died in her hotel room at Excellence Resorts in Punta Cana. Other deaths, which appeared to be related to cardiac issues, included: Yvette Monique Sport, 51, of Glenside, Pa., at a Bahia Príncipe resort in June 2018; Mark Hurlbut, 62, of Grand Prairie, Tex., in June 2018; David Harrison, 45, of Maryland, at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana in July 2018; Robert Wallace, 67, of California, at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana in April of this year; Miranda Schaup-Werner, 41, of Allentown, Pa., at the Luxury Bahia Príncipe Bouganville, on May 25; and Nathaniel Edward Holmes, 63, and Cynthia Ann Day, 49, of Prince George’s County, Md., at the Grand Bahia Príncipe La Romana on May 30.

The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana said in a statement on Friday that it had removed minibars from all guest rooms. “All of the alcohol on property will continue to be brand name and sourced from the U.S., with the exception of a Dominican Republic specialty, Mama Juana, and local beer, Presidente, that we carry to support our community,” the statement read.

The F.B.I. is in the Dominican Republic investigating the deaths.

“At the request of Dominican authorities, the F.B.I. continues to assist with the ongoing local investigation, to include support with toxicology as well as the arrival of a small team of F.B.I. personnel in the Dominican Republic,” a State Department official told The Times on Friday evening.

On the State Department website, the Dominican Republic has a “level 2” travel warning (on a scale of one to four) that encourages travelers to “exercise increased caution” if traveling to the island. The warning was last updated in April.

Frank Pallone, a New Jersey congressman sent a letter to the F.B.I. and the State Department about the deaths. In it, he asked the State Department to reassess its warning for travelers, writing on Twitter on Wednesday evening that he was “extremely saddened” by the deaths. Mr. Allen was from the congressman’s district.

Tourism officials in the Dominican Republic have been downplaying the deaths. García, the tourism minister, said that the deaths are “isolated incidents” and that the island is safe for tourists. He also said that in the last five years, more than 30 million tourists have visited the country. Americans make up about a third of the country’s tourists, with more than two million visiting every year.

The string of deaths has left travelers in the United States wondering if they should cancel their trips; some travel agents have advised people not to go to the island until investigations are complete.

“If someone asked about Punta Cana, I would not recommend going there right now,” said Sharon Jackson, a travel agent based in Houston.

Derrick Bryson Taylor and Sandra E. Garcia contributed reporting.