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FBI Looking Into 3 Tourist Deaths in Dominican Republic; 9 Americans Dead in Last 18 Months, 3 of Them From NY, NJ

The FBI is assisting Dominican authorities with toxicology reports in three of the recent cases, authorities said Wednesday

What to Know

  • At least nine Americans have died in the Dominican Republic within the past year and a half, according to NBC News
  • Two tourists died this month alone -- one was a woman from Staten Island, the other a man from Avenel, New Jersey
  • The FBI is assisting Dominican authorities with toxicology reports in three of the recent cases, authorities said Wednesday

The Ministry of Tourism in the Dominican Republic has delayed its anticipated news conference on its investigation into the recent deaths of American tourists vacationing on the Caribbean Island nation by two days, as families of those who died -- including some from the tri-state -- await answers on their loved ones.

The ministry had been expected to hold its briefing Wednesday afternoon, but delayed it until mid-morning Friday for reasons that weren't immediately clear.

As of Monday, at least nine Americans had died there since August 2018, all but three of those fatalities coming in the first six months of this year. And a third of the nine total deaths have been men and women from New York and New Jersey.

This month, Leyla Cox, a 53-year-old from Staten Island, and Joseph Allen, a 55-year-old from Avenel, New Jersey, became the latest Americans to die while visiting Dominican Republic resorts. Cox stayed at the Excellent Hotel in Punta Cana, while Allen stayed at the Terra Linda in Sosua. 

Cox had been to Punta Cana twice before and was there a third time recently to celebrate her birthday. She died a day after turning 53; her family has yet to learn a cause of death. Allen was found dead in his hotel room June 13. Family says he had gone to the Dominican Republic to celebrate a friend's birthday. 

They don't have an official cause of death yet for him either. 

In May, Nathaniel Holmes and his fiance Cynthia Day, of Maryland, died during their stay at the Grand Bahia Principe in La Romana. Miranda Schaup Werner, from Pennsylvania, died during her visit to the Luxury Bahia Principe in Bouganville, where another tourist, 58-year-old Myroslav Sparavalo, of New York, got sick during his vacation. In October, at the same Bouganville resort, Awilda Montes, of New York, also got sick. The U.S. Department of State confirmed Wednesday that the FBI is providing technical assistance to Dominican authorities with toxicology reports for Holmes, Day and Werner -- whose causes of death, at this point, remain a mystery just like the others.

Also among the dead over the last year: 67-year-old Robert Wallace, of California, who stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana in April. That same month, Colorado's Marylou Fox got sick at the same resort. The year before, in July, 45-year-old David Harrison, of Maryland, died on the property.

Ohioan Jerry Curran died in January while at the Dreams Resort in Punta Cana. In June 2018, Yvette Monique Sport, of Pennsylvania, died during a stay at the Grand Bahia Principe in Punta Cana, where Colorado couple Kaylynn Knull and her boyfriend Tom Schwander got sick around the same time. Six months before that, 38-year-old Susie Lauterborn and her 40-year-old husband Doug Hand, from Pennsylvania, had also gotten sick at the same Punta Cana resort. 

Then there's the Bronx's Terrence Richmond, who died after collapsing during a mountain excursion on Aug. 29, 2018 near Jarabacoa. Officials have said some of the deaths were thought to be related to natural causes like a heart attack.

That's what they told Richmond's mother, Annette Wedington. 

Wedington said Wednesday she was told Richmond had been hiking and fell and had a heart attack. 

"This is what they told me. And I did not buy that," she said. "He was healthy and I know that he didn't die from a heart attack. And all these other people coming about dying over there, and God is trying to tell us something -- that something over there is not right."  

The total of nine tourist deaths doesn't include the case of Queens couple Orlando Moore and his girlfriend Portia Ravanelle, who vanished on their way to the airport after a romantic Caribbean vacation and were later found dead. Authorities have said they were believed to have been killed in a car accident.

The U.S. Department of State issues regularly updated travel advisories for individual countries on a Level 1 to 4 scale, 4 being the most dangerous, on the basis of potential threats to international travelers. It last updated its one for the Dominican Republic on April 15. The country has a Level 2 rating, meaning exercise increased caution -- in this case, due to violent crime like armed robbery, homicide and sexual assault.

The American government says the recent deaths do not reflect an uptick, saying in a statement Tuesday, "Speaking generally, over 2.7 million U.S. citizens visit the Dominican Republic each year, and we have not seen an uptick in the number of U.S. citizen deaths reported to the Department."

Still, frustrated family members have been left wondering. 

In Allen's case, Dominican authorities released the preliminary findings of an autopsy that found cardiac arrest may have led to his death. The report claims Allen was approximately 5-foot-9 and weighed between 410 and 420 pounds.

The report also states Allen had prior conditions, including long term hypertension, hardening of the arteries and other heart issues. The medical examiner also did not find any evidence of external violence.

Dominican officials have not yet completed a final toxicology report, and Allen's family, who says he was healthy and had just passed a physical before his trip, is is working to get his body back to the United States to have their own autopsy done.

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