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Dominican tourist deaths were from natural causes, not tainted alcohol, FBI says

News of the deaths of American tourists went viral earlier this year. Theories of tainted alcohol have damaged tourism to the island country since.
Edward Nathaniel Holmes, 63, and Cynthia Ann Day, 49, a couple from Maryland, were found dead in their hotel room at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana Resort in San Pedro de Macoris on May 30.
Edward Nathaniel Holmes, 63, and Cynthia Ann Day, 49, a couple from Maryland, were found dead in their hotel room at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana Resort in San Pedro de Macoris on May 30. [ Facebook ]
Published Oct. 23, 2019

News of American tourists dying in the Dominican Republic swept the United States earlier this year, with family members of victims alleging that foul play was potentially a factor.

News of the deaths went viral, along with the sense that “poisoned” or “counterfeit” alcohol served at resort bars was to blame. That belief is not true in three cases, however, according to the FBI, which determined Monday that three of the investigated deaths were simply from natural causes.

“Methanol poisoning from tainted alcohol was ruled out by the FBI in these cases during the toxicology screening, and it was not the finding in any other cases of U.S. citizen deaths investigated by Dominican authorities," a State Department spokesperson told The Hill in a statement.

The Dominican Republic’s tourism minister said in June that the deaths were a statistically normal phenomenon that was being lumped together by the U.S. media. The numbers back up his statement.

According to the State Department’s website, 17 Americans died while traveling to the Dominican Republic in 2017. In 2018, there were 13 deaths reported. Between January and June of this year, 10 people died.

While the FBI’s report backs up local authorities’ original findings that there was no foul play involved, the damage inflicted by reports surrounding the deaths on the island republic’s tourism industry has already taken its toll.

ForwardKeys, which analyzes more than 17 million flight bookings a day, released a report in June that showed summer bookings to the Dominican from the United States fell by 74.3 percent compared to the same period in 2018.

“My deepest sympathies go out to the families of the American tourists who have passed away," Olivier Ponti, vice president of insights at ForwardKeys, said in a statement. "Their recent and tragic deaths appear to have had a dramatic impact on travel to the Dominican Republic. Our analysis of leisure travel shows a striking correlation.”

The deaths also prompted Delta Airlines in June to allow travelers to reschedule their flights to Punta Cana “due to recent events.” The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana also announced it would be removing the liquor dispensers from all rooms because of “guest feedback.”