Dominican tourism minister calls spate of deaths ‘exaggerated’

Jerry Curran, a 78-year-old who had served with the Bedford Police Department for 32 years, died in January while staying at the Dreams Resort in Punta Cana

Jerry Curran, a 78-year-old who had served with the Bedford Police Department for 32 years, died in January while staying at the Dreams Resort in Punta Cana

Jerry Curran, a 78-year-old who had served with the Bedford Police Department for 32 years, died in January while staying at the Dreams Resort in Punta Cana

A retired police officer from Ohio died while on vacation in the Dominican Republic in January, making him the 11th fatality in the last year at the vacation hotspot.

Jerry Curran, a 78-year-old who had served with the Bedford Police Department for 32 years before becoming a bailiff, died in January while staying at the Dreams Resort in Punta Cana. 

Three days after he and wife Janet arrived at the resort on January 22, Curran began vomiting and was unresponsive. He underwent surgery but died hours later, WYKC reports.

‘He went to the Dominican Republic healthy and he just never came back,’ said daughter Kellie Brown. 

She, along with sisters Kim Pidala and Jackie Sikes, have been trying to understand the cause of their father’s death after learning of the others in the news. 

‘I thought something’s not right my father was a healthy 78-year-old, he took care of himself and I just didn’t think anything like this was possible, but then I started to hear other people’s stories,’ Kellie added. 

Three days after he and wife Janet arrived at the resort on January 22, Curran began vomiting and was unresponsive. He underwent surgery but died hours later

Three days after he and wife Janet arrived at the resort on January 22, Curran began vomiting and was unresponsive. He underwent surgery but died hours later

Three days after he and wife Janet arrived at the resort on January 22, Curran began vomiting and was unresponsive. He underwent surgery but died hours later

Kellie was shocked when she received a call telling her of her father’s medical problems around 3am on Friday morning. 

‘Your father needs surgery or he’s going to die and they need fifty thousand dollars and you need to send it with a copy of your passport, the front and back of your debit card and an authorization stating that you would allow them to withdraw fifty thousand dollars,’ Kellie said. 

Kellie sent $40,000 while her mother put $10,000 on a credit card.

For the sisters, the time of death that the hospital and U.S. embassy put is just one red flag that they’ve noticed. The time put was 11am on January 26 but Kellie asserts she got the call several hours beforehand. 

Concerns are also raised over the cause of death. 

‘One of them is pulmonary edema which seems to be common in everyone else who’s passed that we’re learning about,’ Kellie added. 

Also listed were Cerebral hypoxia, severe encephalitic cranial trauma and subdural hematoma. 

Doctors stated that the pulmonary edema was ‘scant’ and not enough of a reason to be a direct cause of death. The brain injury was also questionable. 

‘He never complained of hitting his head or falling,’ Kellie said. She admitted that Jerry was taking blood thinners, which could have impacted his health.

The sisters plan on sending their father’s medical records to doctors in the States. Kellie shared that she has also spoken with FBI. 

She stressed the importance of getting medical insurance when traveling. 

Jerry’s personal insurance did eventually pay the money Kellie and her money spent but sent the check in the retired officer’s name. They are working to have that changed. 

In a statement to WYKC, the resort mentioned Tourism Minister Francisco Javier García’s assertion that the recent deaths can all be attributed to natural causes. 

‘Dreams Punta Cana has a range of safety, security and quality control protocols in place, including having a physician living on-site. We take the safety and security of every guest seriously, providing industry best practices and extensive staff training to manage the needs of guests,’ they added in the statement. 

‘This includes training to recognize and respond to a range of health situations and support guest safety quickly and with compassion. All security agents are trained in emergency protocols, and we have clear procedures for addressing health issues, which were correctly followed in Mr. Curran’s situation.’ 

The Dominican Republic’s tourism minister said recent media coverage of deaths at resorts are ‘exaggerated’ and are a result of natural causes, leaving the son of one of the casualties to call the country’s response ‘disgraceful’. 

Tourism Minister Francisco Javier García told reporters that autopsies for eight fatalities in the Dominican Republic show the tourists died of natural causes. He did not mention three of the casualties

Tourism Minister Francisco Javier García told reporters that autopsies for eight fatalities in the Dominican Republic show the tourists died of natural causes. He did not mention three of the casualties

 Tourism Minister Francisco Javier García told reporters that autopsies for eight fatalities in the Dominican Republic show the tourists died of natural causes. He did not mention three of the casualties

Garcia did not speak on the deaths of Susan Simoneaux and Donette Cannon. Yvette Monique Scott was also not mentioned in the briefing

Garcia did not speak on the deaths of Susan Simoneaux and Donette Cannon. Yvette Monique Scott was also not mentioned in the briefing

Garcia did not speak on the deaths of Susan Simoneaux and Donette Cannon. Yvette Monique Scott was also not mentioned in the briefing

Tourism Minister Francisco Javier García told reporters that autopsies for the fatalities show the tourists died of natural causes. He said five of the autopsies are complete, and three are undergoing further toxicological analysis with the help from the FBI because of the circumstances of the deaths.

With some 3.2 million U.S. tourists visiting the Dominican Republic last year, he said, it’s not unusual for eight people to die while on vacation over any six-month period. 

Dominican officials say they are confident the three deaths still under investigation were also from natural causes. 

‘We want the truth to prevail,’ García said. ‘There is nothing to hide here.’

Garcia did not elaborate on the two latest deaths to be added to the tally. 

The first deaths to make headlines, and still the most mysterious, were those of a couple who seemingly died at the same time in the same hotel room. The bodies of Edward Nathaniel Holmes, 63, and Cynthia Ann Day, 49, were found May 30 in their room at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana hotel. Several medications were found in the room, including an anti-inflammatory drug, an opioid and blood-pressure medicine, García said.

García said the number of U.S. tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic dropped 56 percent from 2016 to 2018, although he did not provide further numbers or details

García said the number of U.S. tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic dropped 56 percent from 2016 to 2018, although he did not provide further numbers or details

 García said the number of U.S. tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic dropped 56 percent from 2016 to 2018, although he did not provide further numbers or details

William Cox, the son of Leyla Cox, shared his frustration with the lack of information he has gotten on his mother's death and asserted that she did not die from a heart attack. 'It's absolutely disgraceful. It's disgraceful to dismiss the families with everything that's going on over there,' Cox said

William Cox, the son of Leyla Cox, shared his frustration with the lack of information he has gotten on his mother's death and asserted that she did not die from a heart attack. 'It's absolutely disgraceful. It's disgraceful to dismiss the families with everything that's going on over there,' Cox said

William Cox, the son of Leyla Cox, shared his frustration with the lack of information he has gotten on his mother’s death and asserted that she did not die from a heart attack. ‘It’s absolutely disgraceful. It’s disgraceful to dismiss the families with everything that’s going on over there,’ Cox said

Autopsies found pulmonary edema, an accumulation of fluid in the lungs frequently caused by heart disease.

Soon after the couple’s death, family members appeared in U.S. media reports questioning the death of Miranda Schaup-Werner, 41, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, who died May 25 at the Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville hotel. A family spokesman told reporters that she collapsed after getting a drink from the minibar.

An autopsy found that she died of a heart attack, García said.

García said the number of U.S. tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic dropped 56 percent from 2016 to 2018, although he did not provide further numbers or details. The U.S. State Department also discounted the idea of a surge of tourist deaths, saying the agency had not seen an uptick in the number of U.S. citizen who died there. 

García showed reporters a summary of pathologists’ findings in each death but declined to share the autopsy reports, saying they are not public records and that only the families could authorize their release. 

Jerry Curran, 78, died Jan. 26 in the Dreams Punta Cana resort, and an autopsy report blamed pulmonary edema and other causes, García said. 

Then on April 12, 67-year-old Robert Bell Wallace of California died of septic shock, pneumonia and multi-organ failure. A week later, on April 19, 70-year-old John Corcoran died of natural causes. Family members have said he had a pre-existing heart condition, and officials did not release further details.

‘What some media are describing as an avalanche of deaths doesn’t correspond to the reality that we’re living today in the Dominican Republic,’ García said.

Maryland couple Cynthia Day, 49, and Edward Holmes, 63, had been staying in the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana hotel when they were found dead in their room by hotel staff on May 30

Maryland couple Cynthia Day, 49, and Edward Holmes, 63, had been staying in the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana hotel when they were found dead in their room by hotel staff on May 30

Maryland couple Cynthia Day, 49, and Edward Holmes, 63, had been staying in the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana hotel when they were found dead in their room by hotel staff on May 30 

Susan Simoneaux, 59, died on Tuesday in New Orleans after being rushed to hospital with fluid on her lungs. Her death came a week after she returned from her honeymoon in the Dominican Republic with her husband Keith Williams

Susan Simoneaux, 59, died on Tuesday in New Orleans after being rushed to hospital with fluid on her lungs. Her death came a week after she returned from her honeymoon in the Dominican Republic with her husband Keith Williams

Susan Simoneaux, 59, died on Tuesday in New Orleans after being rushed to hospital with fluid on her lungs. Her death came a week after she returned from her honeymoon in the Dominican Republic with her husband Keith Williams

Leyla Ann Cox, 53, died from a heart attack June 10, he said. She had signs of a previous heart attack. Three days later, on June 13, Joseph Allen, also 55, died of a heart attack at the Centro Vacacional Terra Linda resort in Sosua, anthracosis edema and pulmonary congestion.

The Dominican government has been criticized for not being more forthcoming about the details of the death investigations.

William Cox, the son of Leyla Cox, shared his frustration with the lack of information he has gotten on his mother’s death and asserted that she did not die from a heart attack. 

‘It’s absolutely disgraceful. It’s disgraceful to dismiss the families with everything that’s going on over there,’ Cox said.

Donette Edge Cannon, 38, died four days after arriving to the Sunscape Bávaro Beach Punta Cana on May 14

Donette Edge Cannon, 38, died four days after arriving to the Sunscape Bávaro Beach Punta Cana on May 14

Donette Edge Cannon, 38, died four days after arriving to the Sunscape Bávaro Beach Punta Cana on May 14

‘There’s something not right with this story. How many more Americans are going to have to die before something is done and we as Americans say enough is enough?’

William said that the FBI hadn’t reached out to him but offered that the officials that he has spoken to have been ‘very helpful.’

‘For all as I know, a crime could have been committed and the Dominican authorities are not even investigating that whatsoever,’ he said. 

TIMELINE: American tourists who mysteriously died in the Dominican Republic 

June 2018: Yvette Monique Sport, 51, of Glenside, Pennsylvania, dies after drinking from the minibar at at a Bahia Principe hotel in Punta Cana. Family said Sport had the drink, went to sleep and never woke up.

July 2018: David Harrison dies while on vacation at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana to celebrate his wedding anniversary. He woke up struggling to breathe and covered in sweat. He died that same day. He visited the doctor before the trip who’d given him a clean bill of health. 

January 26, 2019: Jerry Curran, a 78-year-old former police officer from Ohio, died after enjoying a few nights at the Dreams Resort in Punta Cana. He was found vomiting before becoming unresponsive and died after surgery. 

April 10, 2019 : Robert Bell Wallace, 67, of California, became ill almost immediately after drinking an alcoholic beverage from his in-room minibar at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino resort in Punta Cana. He died in hospital on April 14.

May 25, 2019: Miranda Schaup-Werner, 41, of Pennsylvannia, dies within hours of consuming a drink from a resort minibar across the island at Bahia Principe Hotel in La Romana.

May 25, 2019: Cynthia Day, 49, and Nathaniel Holmes, 63, of Maryland, check into the Bahia Principe Hotel, La Romana. They were found dead in their room on May 30. 

June 10, 2019: Leyla Cox, 53, of Staten Island, New York, is found dead in her hotel room. Officials say she died of a heart attack, but her son says he is suspicious. 

June 13, 2019: New Jersey man Joseph Allen, 55, is found dead in his hotel room at the Terra Linda hotel in Sosua. He was there to celebrate a friend’s birthday.

June 18, 2019: Louisiana woman Susan Simoneaux, 59, died on Tuesday in New Orleans after being rushed to hospital with fluid on her lungs. Her death came a week after she returned from her Dominican Republic honeymoon.  

Family members and loved ones aren’t the only one looking at the strange deaths under intense scrutiny, trying to determine the causes.

They ‘probably have some indication of what it could be or what it might not be,’ said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious diseases and critical care doctor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. But officials have been ‘very opaque’ about their findings.

‘The longer they keep everybody in suspense, the worst it’s going to be for the Dominican Republic, especially when they’re so dependent on tourism. Because the longer this goes on unexplained, the longer people are going to be leery of going there,’ Adalja said.

‘Most tourist destinations have a number of natural deaths during a year,’ added Dr. Sally Aiken, a medical examiner in Spokane, Washington, who has done more than 9,000 autopsies and is vice president of the National Association of Medical Examiners. 

In response to public concerns, authorities are increasing internal security measures at hotels as well as increased control over food and beverages, but only as a preventive measure, García said.

‘We’re very sorry for the families’ grief,’ he said. But ‘there is no wave of mysterious deaths.’

A ‘vibrant’ Queens mom-of-four became the 10th person in a year to die in mysterious circumstances after falling ill in the Dominican Republic. 

The family of Donette Edge Cannon, 38, revealed that she died four days after arriving at the Sunscape Bávaro Beach Punta Cana on May 14. 

Cannon had diabetes and was on a dialysis treatment. On her last night at the resort, the mother-of-four started throwing up and went to hospital.

The hospital that she was taken to did not have a dialysis machine even though Cannon’s family told medical personnel about the woman’s kidney issues

Dominican authorities ruled that her cause of death was kidney failure.

A Louisiana woman Susan Simoneaux, 59, died on Tuesday in New Orleans after being rushed to hospital with fluid on her lungs. Her death came a week after she returned from her Dominican Republic honeymoon.

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