Dominican Republic authorities seek to calm fears following resort-related incidents

Justin Chan

Dominican Republic officials are scrambling to quell fears over the island's resorts following a series of disturbing events that have occurred in the past several months, according to the Washington Post.

While the Dominican Republic remains the second-most visited country among American tourists, many of them have voiced concerns over what they perceive as unsafe conditions at several well-known retreats. In the past year, six Americans have passed away under mysterious circumstances. Four of them died in the past two months alone. Other tourists have reported both troubling and bizarre episodes — from a brutal attack by an alleged hotel employee to a near-death experience involving a 7Up bottle. Some of these cases have been eerily similar to a previous series of suspicious occurrences in Mexico that involved tainted alcohol

Dominican officials have since insisted that the media has blown the most recent resort-related incidents out of the proportion, noting that over 2 million Americans visit their island's beaches annually. At a press conference last Thursday, Francisco Javier Garcia, the Dominican Republic's minister of tourism, even suggested that the deaths were coincidental. 

"Sometimes in life there can be a law of sequences," he said. "Sometimes, nothing may happen to you in a year. But in another week, three things might happen to you." 

Here is a chronology of everything that has happened since last year. 

Sometime in June 2018: Kaylynn Knull and Tom Schwander are reportedly poisoned at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana

Photo: Facebook

Chicago couple Kaylynn Knull and Tom Schwander said they had been considering a timeshare opportunity when they returned their room and became sick. Knull said she smelled something unusual in the room, as if someone had "dumped paint everywhere." 

"We were drooling excessively," she told the Denver Channel. "My eyes would not stop watering." 

Despite moving into a different room, the two continued to experience the same symptoms and eventually cut their trip short. The couple was later diagnosed with "likely organophosphate poisoning" — a possible result of the pesticides that were used on the plants throughout the resort.   

June 23, 2018: Yvette Monique Sport dies at the Bahia Principe in Punta Cana


Photo: Facebook

At the time of her death, Yvette Monique Sport of Glenside, Pa., was on vacation with her fiancé, according to WCAU. The night before, she had supposedly drunk from the mini-bar, taken a shower and gone to sleep, her sister Felecia Nieves told the station. However, when Sport's fiancé tried to wake her up the next day, Sport was unresponsive. 

"He tried to nudge her again and there was no sound and then she was gone," Nieves said. 

Sport's death was ultimately determined to be a result of a heart attack, although Nieves has insisted that her sister was healthy prior to her passing. 

July 14, 2018: David Harrison dies at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana


Photo: Handout

Maryland widow Dawn McCoy said her husband David Harrison, who was reportedly in good health prior to his death, complained about being sick one night before bed. The following day, he woke up in distress, she explained. 

"He wasn't able to breathe," she told WUSA. "He wasn't able to talk. He was sweating profusely." 

McCoy said a doctor took nearly 25 minutes to arrive and treat her husband. By then, it was too late. Officials later concluded that Harrison died of a heart attack and pulmonary edema. 

"I didn't plan on coming back a widow," McCoy said. "I wasn't prepared for what was coming my way."

October 25, 2018: Awilda Montes purportedly vomits blood after drinking at the Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville


Photo: Facebook

Awilda Montes of New York City said she took a sip of what she thought was 7Up from the minibar until she started throwing up blood. 

"I thought the maid service, maybe to not carry the bleach bottle from room to room, would maybe put it into a smaller bottle," she told the New York Daily News. "Or maybe they were trying to take it home to clean their house." 

Montes said the "drink" left chemical burns in her mouth. Medical records she provided from a local clinic further detailed "a pain in the dorsal and lateral region of the tongue, accompanied with vomiting ... with a frequency of two occasions following the (ingestion) of a liquid approximately thirty minutes ago." 

"I was miserable," Monte said. "I was vomiting. I had stomach pains. The chemical burns were all over. I still don’t have sensation in my tongue."

Late January 2019: Tammy Lawrence-Daley is allegedly attacked by employee at the Majestic Elegance in Punta Cana

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Photo: Facebook

On May 29, Delaware woman Tammy Lawrence-Daley took to Facebook to describe a brutal attack in January that left her fighting for her life. In a viral post, she explained how she left her room to grab a snack when she was suddenly approached from behind by a person she claimed worked at the Majestic Elegance. 

"I was strangled multiple times to unconsciousness," she wrote. "My lifeless body was drug down concrete stairs to an underground waste water area. I was kicked in the head, I was beaten with a club. And then strangled again for the kill; at which time he disposed of my body into an area I refer to as the 'hole'."

Dominican authorities have since disputed Lawrence-Daley's account, claiming holes in her story. The hotel also hit back, accusing the woman of making false allegations and demanding $2.2 million in compensation before going public about the attack. 

April 14, 2019: Robert Wallace dies after a drink at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana

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Photo: Facebook

Robert Wallace of Turlock, Calif. arrived at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino resort on April 10 to attend his stepson's wedding but fell sick after reportedly taking a scotch from the minibar in his room. 

"He started feeling very sick," Wallace's niece Chloe Arnold told Fox News. "He had blood in his urine and stool right afterward." 

A hotel doctor later administered aid to Wallace but determined on April 13 that the man had to go to the hospital. Wallace unfortunately passed the next day. His family said they don't know what led to his death but expect to receive his toxicology reports by the end of the month. 

"We have so many questions," Arnold said. "We don't want this to happen to anyone else." 

May 25, 2019: Miranda Schaup-Werner dies at the Bahia Principe Bouganville in La Romana


Photo: Twitter

Pennsylvania psychotherapist Miranda Schaup-Werner was celebrating her ninth anniversary with her husband, Daniel Werner, when she collapsed after having a drink in her room. The couple's spokesman, Jay McDonald, said the woman sat down, took a selfie and stood up before she sipped her drink. 

"She started shrieking and she dropped to the floor," McDonald told Fox News. "[Her husband] attempted to do CPR, he tried to resuscitate her." 

Upon arriving, paramedics attempted to save Schaup-Werner, who had previously been diagnosed with inflammation around her heart 15 years earlier, but she died at the scene. Authorities said the woman — much like David Harrison — died of respiratory failure and pulmonary edema. McDonald, however, said police, along with the hotel, have misled the public about her death. 

May 30, 2019: Edward Nathaniel Holmes and Cynthia Day found dead at the Bahia Principe La Romana

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Photo: Facebook

Five days after Miranda Schaup-Werner's death, Maryland couple Edward Nathaniel Holmes and Cynthia Day were discovered dead in their room by a hotel employee. The two were supposed to fly back home on May 30 but failed to check out, prompting hotel staff to check on them.

Authorities said they found medication for high blood pressure and concluded that the couple had died of respiratory failure and pulmonary edema. Day also allegedly suffered cerebral edema. In a statement to People on Tuesday, though, the couple's family lawyer Steven Bullock expressed skepticism.

"The families are determined to find out what happened and why. At this time the cause of death remains a mystery," he said. "We look forward to getting the FBI findings."