Yet another tourist has died in the Dominican Republic under mysterious, but now familiar, circumstances: Joseph Allen, 55 and reportedly healthy, was found dead in his room at the Terra Linda in Sosúa on June 13th, after complaining to friends that he felt off. This is at least the ninth suspicious U.S. tourist death in the Caribbean nation since 2018, and while officials contend there's no evidence the fatalities are related, they nonetheless share striking similarities.
Allen, of Avenel, New Jersey, arrived in the Dominican Republic on June 9th, for a friend's birthday celebration. On June 12th, he told friends he felt hot and left the pool area to shower and lie down. When the group hadn't heard from him the next morning, they asked the hotel for a wellness check. That's when a maid found him: Allen's brother, Jason, told NBC New York that an employee "opened the door, screamed, slammed the door." Allen was reportedly lying "on the floor dead between his room and the bathroom."
Allen's family told NBC New York that he had passed a physical just before his trip, and that the Dominican Republic was "his vacation spot": he'd been there many times before. They're working on getting his body back so they can get an autopsy.
"I don't know who to blame," Jason Allen told NBC. "I'd rather not guess because you will drive yourself crazy with that but I do think something is off and I think it needs to be investigated no matter how much money or how much time it is."
Since June 2018, eight other U.S. tourists have died at Dominican Republic hotels: On June 10th, Leyla Cox, 53, was found dead in her room at the Excellence Resort in Punta Cana. John Corcoran, brother to Shark Tank's Barabara Corcoran, died at an unnamed resort in April, ostensibly from natural causes. Four people—51-year-old Yvette Monique Sport, 41-year-old Miranda Schaup-Werner, 63-year-old Nathaniel Edward Holmes, and 49-year-old Cynthia Ann Day—have died at Grand Bahia Principe properties. Two guests—45-year-old David Harrison and 67-year-old Robert Wallace—died at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Punta Cana.
At that particular Hard Rock, a group of Oklahoma graduating seniors and their parents recently became ill after eating at the all-inclusive resort's Japanese restaurant on June 11th. "I just woke up, and my stomach was cramping and I was sweating," Bennet Hill, one of the Deer Creek High School grads, told KOCO News. "I was freezing."
"We've been hooked up to IVs since we first got here with antibiotics, just getting hydrated," he said, adding that six of his peers had also been taken to the hospital for the same problems. The teens received "anti-nausea medicine," Bennet said, and "all this stuff because we were just so dehydrated."
Parent Liz McLaughlin, whose daughter Libby is among those who've gotten sick, told KOTV: "We just don't know what is happening. Is it the water? Is it the ice? Is it the food? Is it the food handling? Is it the pesticides? We have no idea what's going on."
The FBI, which is now working with Dominican authorities to determine the cause of death and will be running toxicology screenings on some of the deceased, reportedly suspects bootleg alcohol may be the culprit. Spouses and friends traveling with the people who have died, along with people who have become violently ill but survived, have attested to a number of the same symptoms—blurred vision, nausea, stomach cramping, diarrhea, respiratory issues, and more—all of which are consistent with methanol poisoning. In years past, big resorts—particularly the all-inclusives where you don't pay per drink—have been caught swapping methanol into alcohol bottles: In the Dominican Republic in 2017, for example, 12 people died and at least 21 were severely sickened after drinking fake liquor.
In this latest rash of deaths, a number of the victims expired after imbibing drinks from the minibar or at the hotel.
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The Grand Bahia Principe has insisted that it will continue to work with investigators, while seeming to deny the idea that its establishments may have doctored the liquor. The Hard Rock, too, has expressed its confidence "that all operational protocols were followed to ensure the safety of our guests." With respect to the graduation group, the Hard Rock told the NY Post that it "immediately took corrective action" upon learning of the sick students.
"Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana is disappointed regarding a recent situation in which a group of guests became ill after dining at one of our twelve venues," read a statement from the hotel. "As the safety and health of our guests is now, and has always been our highest priority, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana is regretful that we did not achieve the extremely high standards we set for ourselves."