Preliminary autopsy reports reveal that Miranda Schaup-Werner, Nathaniel Edward Holmes and Cynthia Day all died from pulmonary edema and respiratory failure while staying at sister properties belonging to Principe Bahia Hotels & Resorts in the city of La Romana. Another couple has come forward to say they also became sick at the same resort where Holmes and Day were guests, and have filed a lawsuit asserting they may have accidentally been poisoned.
U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic Robin S. Bernstein was quoted in a press release issued by Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts as saying that over 2.7 million Americans visit the Dominican Republic annually and that the deaths were isolated cases. “They come to visit the beautiful beaches and enjoy the great culture. Unfortunately, sometimes these things happen to people,” she said.
Here’s what you need to know about the tragic deaths at the Bahia Principe resorts and the initial autopsy results presented by medical authorities in the Dominican Republic.
1. Miranda Schaup-Werner Died Within Hours of Arriving at the Resort
Miranda Schaup-Werner, 41, and husband Dan Werner, checked into the Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville on May 25 to celebrate their ninth wedding anniversary. The Allentown, Pennsylvania couple had only been at the property a few hours before Schaup-Werner went to the mini-bar to get a beverage and then collapsed on the floor.
“At one point she was sitting there happily, smiling and taking pictures, and the next moment she was in acute pain and called out for Dan, and she collapsed,” Schaup-Werner’s brother-in-law Jay McDonald told WFMZ. Paramedics were called and attempted to revive her but she died at the scene.
Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts issued a press release on Twitter which read, “According to statements from the National Institute of Forensic Sciences and the National Police Investigations Unit, Mrs. Schaup-Werner’s cause of death was determined to be a heart attack, aligning with official statements provided by Mr. Werner, who confirmed she had a history of heart conditions.”
Schaup-Werner’s autopsy report stated that she had “atherosclerosis with stenosis of right coronary ostium in the left ventricular wall, pulmonary edema and respiratory failure as a terminal mechanism of death.” She also had an enlarged heart, “petechial hemorrhages in the epicardium, endocardiac fibrosis, fatty changes in the endocardium, and chronic passive congestion of the liver.” Schaup-Werner’s sternum had fractures resulting from resuscitation attempts.
While atherosclerosis can contribute to a heart attack, Schaup-Werner’s brother-in-law stated she had been treated for a heart condition 15 years earlier but had not experienced any problems since.
2. Cynthia Day and Nathaniel Holmes Arrived on the Same Day as Schaup-Werner & Died 5 Days Later
Cynthia Day, 49, and Nathaniel Edward Holmes 63, checked in to the Bahia Principe La Romana on May 25, the same day as Schaup-Werner and husband Dan checked into the neigbhoring property, Bahia Principe Bouganville. The Prince George’s County, Maryland couple was celebrating their recent engagement. Photos and videos posted on social media during their vacation show the happy pair enjoying themselves.
On the morning they were set to leave, Holmes complained of not feeling well. The front desk summoned a physician but claim Holmes declined treatment. When the couple failed to check out on time and Day’s cousin couldn’t reach them, a resort staff member entered their room and found the two unresponsive.
There were no signs of violence or struggle. Prescibed medications for high blood pressure and oxycodone were discovered in the room. Authorities are waiting for toxicology and histopathology results before declaring the couple’s cause of death.
Initial autopsy reports determined that Holmes had “petechial hemorrhages on the pleural surface, generalized visceral and cerebral areas, as well as pulmonary edema, an englarged heart, gross hepatic cirrhosis, hemorrhagic gastritis, and pancreatic hemorrhage.”
Day’s autopsy revealed “cerebral edema, petechial hemorrhages in the brain, heart and lungs, pulmonary edema, and an an enlarged heart, chronic passive liver congestion, hemorrhagic gastritis, pancreatic hemorrhage.”
Schaup Werner’s family finds it surprising that all three had pulmonary edema. “That was beyond coincidence,” her brother-in-law Jay McDonald told Fox News. “(Holmes and Day) died five days after, and the cause was determined to be the same, this just puts this whole thing through the stratosphere – something is going on, and we want to know what it is.”
3. Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts Says it “Disapproves of any Speculation” Regarding the Deaths
Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts issued a media release on June 5 regarding the “two unfortunate incidents” and said they hoped to clarify several points.
The resort said it wanted to clarify that the deaths took place at two different properties, that there is no correlation between the deaths of Schaup-Werner and Holmes and Day, protocols were followed and that investigations are ongoing. “We disapprove of any speculation and conjecture on the possible causes of death and urge all to respect the families while the investigation is ongoing.”
“At Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts, providing a safe and welcoming environment for travelers stands at the heart of our company values.”The U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic supports the resort’s position and stated that “At this point, ongoing investigations by local authorities have not established a connection between these incidents.”
4. A Colorado Couple Says They Also got Sick at the Same Resort Chain
Colorado couple Kaylynn Knull, 29, and her boyfriend Tom Schwander, 33, have filed a $1 million lawsuit against the Bahia Principe chain stating that they suffered chemical poisoning while on vacation last year. They described symptoms including headaches, sweating, drooling, dizziness, nausea, and severe stomach cramping.
Knull and Schwander’s were enjoying their vacation when on the sixth day, Knull woke up with a headache after noticing a strange smell in the room. She went to breakfast hoping she’d feel better after eating but when she returned the situation had worsened. “When we came back to the room it actually hit us a lot stronger and we smelled the smell of chemicals,” Knull told CNN, adding that they called a staff member from housekeeping for assistance.
“(The housekeeper) got six feet into the room and said ‘I’m not doing that,’” then called the front desk on her walkie-talkie and told them that “something was going on with this room.” Knull and Schwander were given new accomodations but their condition didn’t improve. “Abdominal cramping was the worst. There was just so much pain,” Schwander recalled.
Back in the U.S., Schwander’s doctor diagnosed her with organophosphate poisoning. Organophosphates are chemicals used most frequently in pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) restricts the use of organophosphates in the United States due to their toxicity.
The EPA document “Recognition and Management of Pesticide Poisoning,” says that symptoms can set in anywhere from minutes to hours and that “Exposure by inhalation results in the fastest appearance of toxic symptoms.” Knull and Schwander recalled seeing someone outside spray chemicals near their room’s air conditioner.
Knull and Schwander say they filed the lawsuit when the Bahia Principe refused to reveal which gardening chemicals are used at their properties. “I honestly believe the truth needs to be told,” Knull told ABC Denver7. “This sounds way too similar at the same resort.”
Knull and Schwander’s attorneys David Column and John Urban are unsure how the lawsuit will progress, and told CNN that the Dominican Republic a judge hears the case and makes a decision without a discovery process or jury trial. Knull is angered that the resort and local authorities seem to be playing down the problem. “My blood boiled. It made me want to scream. It made me want to cry,” Knull told CNN. “There’s something going on. What happened to us may be related to what happened to them.”
5. The FBI & the CDC are Investigating the Deaths at the Bahia Principe Resorts
CNN reported that environmental health and epidemiology specialists inspected the hotels on June 6 and should have results by June 10. CBS News has confirmed that the FBI and CDC, with the assistance of the U.S. Embassy, have stepped in to help investigate the deaths of Schaup-Werner, Day, and Holmes.
“The U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo has no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens who visit or reside in the Dominican Republic. We offer our sincerest condolences to the families of the three U.S. citizens who recently passed away in La Romana,” the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic wrote in a June 6 press release.
The release went on to say that the embassy is “engaged with Dominican authorities and actively monitoring the investigations,” and that the FBI had been asked by Dominican Republic officials to provide “technical assistance to produce full toxicology reports.”
In total, five American tourists are known to have died in the Dominican Republic in three months. Vacationers Portia Ravenelle and Orlando Moore were killed in an auto accident last April. The two had been staying at the Bahia Principe Cayacoa and were making their way to the airport to catch their return flight to Liberty-Newark Airport when their car plunged into the Caribbean Sea. Investigators believe alcohol, speed and the unfamiliar roadways contributed to the accident.