A Staten Island woman died in her hotel room in the Dominican Republic last week, days before she was scheduled to return to the United States. Leyla Cox, 53, was found on June 10th, according to the Staten Island Advance, immediately after her birthday on June 9th.
The MRI technician had been staying at the Excellence Resort in Punta Cana, where she'd spent two previous vacations, when she died. Her son, William Cox, told the Advance that his mother's death had been declared a heart attack, at least according to the U.S. Embassy.
"I have a right to be suspicious," he said, nodding to the recent rash of sudden deaths reported at resorts around the island nation. The Embassy official reportedly told William that a toxicology test would not be performed on his mother's body, which has not been returned to the family, because the machines needed to do it were broken.
"She was at no risk for a heart attack and I truly believe in some way, shape or form, the Dominican Republic is responsible for my mother's death," William told NBC. "If she would've went anywhere else in the world, she'd be alive today."
Since 2018, a total of 8 U.S. tourists have died under suspicious circumstances at Dominican resorts. In June 2018, 51-year-old Yvette Monique Sport died after drinking from the minibar at one of the country's many Bahia Príncipe resorts, reportedly making a strange "gurgling sound" in her sleep before she expired. The next month, 45-year-old David Harrison suffered a heart attack and pulmonary edema—which is often caused by excess fluid buildup in the lungs, which makes breathing difficult—and atherosclerosis, i.e. plaque buildup in the arteries, at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana. His wife said he had been sweating and unable to stand in the lead-up to his death.
In April 2019, 67-year-old Robert Wallace became ill and died at the same hotel, reportedly after having a scotch from his room's minibar. On May 25th, 41-year-old Miranda Schaup-Werner had a heart attack on a trip celebrating her 10th wedding anniversary at the Bahia Principe Bouganville, collapsing soon after taking a drink from the minibar, less than 24 hours after her arrival. Shortly thereafter, 63-year-old Nathaniel Edward Holmes and 49-year-old Cynthia Ann Day died in their rooms at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana, reportedly because of respiratory failure and pulmonary edema. And in April, John Corcoran—brother to Shark Tank's Barbara Corcoran—died in his hotel room in the Dominican Republic from what his family believes were natural causes: Corcoran had a pre-existing heart problem.
The FBI will run toxicology screenings on some of the deceased, but the results might not be available for up to 30 days. In the meantime, the agency is reportedly probing bootleg liquor as a potential cause of death: According to the NY Post, investigators suspect the resorts may have served alcohol laced with methanol, a key component in anti-freeze. The symptoms of methanol poisoning may take hours to days to show up, but include headache, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, severe abdominal pain and gastrointestinal bleeding, diarrhea, blurred vision, loss of vision, elevated heart rate, rapid breathing, and sometimes, respiratory arrest.
A handful of visitors who have gotten violently ill at the Grand Bahia Príncipe La Romana and survived told the NY Times that they came down with fevers, nausea, cold sweats, headaches, diarrhea, fatigue, and problems with their eyesight during their stays. Not all of those guests reported drinking alcohol, but one told the Times that his room had a "moldy, mildewy smell like the A.C. or filter hadn't been cleaned." And at the Hard Rock Punta Cana, various Grand Bahia Principle hotels, and the Excellence Punta Cana, guests have complained about what they believe to have been bootleg liquor disguised as regular alcohol.
Big resorts have been busted for swapping methanol into liquor bottles before. In December 2017, the Associated Press reported that 12 people had died and over 21 had become sick at Dominican Republic hotels after drinking homemade alcohol made or mixed with methanol.
Also in 2017, a Texas family visited a resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, where 20-year-old Abbey Conner drowned hours after having a drink her parents believe was made with tainted alcohol. The family subsequently sued, and amid a spate of similar deaths, Mexican authorities undertook a widespread resort raid that led to the seizure of 100 gallons of methanol-diluted alcohol.
"At an all-inclusive resort of course alcohol, unlimited alcohol, is available to guests," the Conners' attorney, Gary Davidson, said. "What better way to save money, conserve resources, than to serve non-first quality alcohol?"
On June 7th, the Bahia Principe chain issued a statement criticizing media reports about the situation as "misinformation," and affirming the company's intention to continue "collaborating completely with authorities."
"The safety and comfort of our guests and staff stand at the core of our company values, and we work daily to ensure it," the statement reads. "We reiterate our firm commitment to collaboration completely with the authorities and hope for a prompt resolution."
In regards to the information that has been spread by various media outlets and social media, we would like to express: https://t.co/fT2Qj8jR7K
En respuesta a las informaciones que están siendo publicadas por diversos medios de comunicación y redes sociales, manifestamos: pic.twitter.com/BjjJd9mJdd
— BahiaPrincipe (@BahiaPrincipe) June 7, 2019
Meanwhile, the Hard Rock Punta Cana told CNN in a statement: "The safety and wellness of our guests ... is now, and has always been our highest priority. We are confident that all operational protocols were followed to ensure the safety of our guests. While we are deeply saddened by these incidents, and our thoughts go out to all of those affected, we, along with the general public, will be monitoring the facts as they unfold surrounding these events."