The family of Turlock, California resident Robert Bell Wallace, 67, has stepped forward to say they now have suspicions about his death in the Dominican Republic. Like Wallace, at least five other Americans have recently died under mysterious circumstances and approximately 70 others have reportedly become ill.
Wallace and his wife, Beverly, checked into the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Resort on April 10 to attend his stepson’s wedding. He fell ill on April 11, was hospitalized the following day and then died on April 13.
The family didn’t realize that something unusual might have happened to Wallace until they read about other tourists who suddenly and inexplicably became ill and died after staying in the Dominican Republic. “We have so many questions,” niece Chloe Arnold Fox News. “We don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”
The country’s tourism industry is trying to play down the deaths of
Nathaniel Holmes,63, Cynthia Day, 49, Miranda Schaup-Werner,41, David Harrison, 45, and Yvette Monique Sport, 51. “Sometimes in life there can be a law of sequences,” Francisco Javier Garcia, the country’s minister of tourism, said during a recent press conference. “Sometimes, nothing may happen to you in a year. But in another week, three things might happen to you.”
“At this point, ongoing investigations by local authorities have not established a connection between these incidents,” a statement from the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic read.
“It’s a complete fabrication,” Sport’s sister Felecia Nieves said. “That you could have as many people and they all have the same cookie cutter outcome. It’s impossible.”
Here’s what you need to know about Robert Bell Wallace and his death in the Dominican Republic.
1. Wallace Became Sick after Having a Drink from the Mini-Bar
Arnold said that her uncle fell ill after drinking some scotch from the hotel room’s mini-bar. “He was fine,” she explained. “He and his wife arrived there at around midnight on April 10. On April 11 he had scotch from the mini-bar. He started feeling very sick, he had blood in his urine and stool right afterward.” The Wallace family is still waiting for officials to provide them with a cause of death determination.
“The safety and wellness of our guests at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana is now, and has always been our highest priority. We are confident that all operational protocols were followed to ensure the safety of our guests,” the hotel said in a statement published by the New York Post. “While we are deeply saddened by these incidents, and our thoughts go out to all of those affected, we, along with the general public, will be monitoring the facts as they unfold surrounding these events.”
Wallace’s death seemed to follow the same bizarre pattern as that of Pennsylavania tourists Miranda Schaup-Werner and Yvette Monique Sport.
Schaup-Werner and husband Dan had only been at the Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville for a few hours on May 25 when she took a drink from the mini-bar and became violently ill. Dan Werner attempted to administer CPR and paramedics were called to help, but Schaup-Werner died in the room. Her death was ruled as a heart attack.
Sport, also from Pennsylvania, was visiting the Bahia Principe Punta Cana in June 2018 when she took a drink from the mini-bar, showered and then went to bed. Sport’s fiance found her unresponsive after repeatedly trying to wake her the following morning. “He tried to nudge her again and there was no sound and then she was gone,” Nieves revealed. Sports cause of death was listed as a heart attack.
2.Wallace Had No Known Medical Problems Prior to His Trip
According to Arnold, Wallace was healthy and had no known medical issues before traveling to the Dominican Republic. Prior to leaving for Punta Cana, he’d been skiing in Lake Tahoe.
He worked in construction and had overseen cattle and almond growing operations. On a page memorializing his life, family members said Wallace liked to “work hard and play harder.” and “lived life to the fullest every day.” Passionate about sports, Wallace had previously opened Timberline Sports Shop, a store specializing in quality ski and sports equipment.
3. The CDC and FBI Have Stepped in to Investigate
Dominican Republic officials insist there’s no connection between the deaths, however the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were called in to investigate after Cynthia Day and Nathaniel Holmes were discovered dead in their room on May 30, just a few days after Schaup-Werner. The recently engaged couple had been staying at the Bahia Principe La Romana, a resort that neighors the property where Schaup-Werner had been a guest.
The initial autopsies for Day and Holmes concluded both died from respiratory failure and fluid build-up in the lungs. On June 11, attorney Steven Bullock confirmed the bodies of Day and Holmes had been returned to their families. There are plans for additonal autopsies to be conducted.
“The U.S. Embassy is engaged with Dominican authorities and actively monitoring the investigations. Further, at the request of Dominican officials, our Legal Attaché (FBI) is providing technical assistance to produce full toxicology reports (for Day and Holmes). We do not yet have results of the toxicology studies,” the U.S. Embassy wrote.
Former FBI Assistant Deputy Director Danny Coulson told Fox News that the U.S. should take the lead on the investigation. “They need to get to the root of it and find out exactly what happened…and it would not be that hard,” he said. According to Coulson, the FBI routinely travels to other countries to investigate the deaths of U.S. citizens. Saying that these illnesses and deaths are going to the “kill their tourist trade,” Coulson emphasized that “it’s in the interest of their government” to have the FBI come in and assist with the investigation.
“This would be a pretty easy investigation to conduct,” Coulson said, explaining that most of the resorts have impressive video surveillance systems. He added that the toxicology reports will also be a critical piece of the puzzle. “It’s one thing to have fluid in your lungs- but what caused it to get there?” he asked.
Coulson suggested the Dominican Republic publicly acknowledge and address the problem. “Always the truth is better. It’s better to get the people in there that are professionals and have the resources to do it, and let’s find out exactly what happened.”
4. Another Guest Died at the Hard Rock in Punta Cana Under Similar Circumstances
Wallace wasn’t the only tourist to recently die at the Hard Rock’s Punta Cana resort. In July 2018, Dawn McCoy, her husband David Harrison and their son travelled from their home in Maryland to the Hard Rock in Punta Cana for a wedding anniversary celebration.
McCoy recalled her husband become ill one night and then woke up covered in sweat. “He couldn’t sit up, and he was making noises that you couldn’t make out,” McCoy told WTOP. She said McCoy had difficulty gettng out of bed and could only mumble.
Dominican Republic officials ruled Harrison’s death a heart attack even though McCoy described her huband as fit and healthy. Accepting the initial findings, McCoy had her husband’s body cremated. “I came home a widow and my 12-year-old son came home fatherless.”
5. Some Experts Suspect Pesticide Poisoning
After Kaylynn Knull and boyfriend Tom Schwander became seriously ill while on vacation in the summer of 2018 at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana, Knull sought medical treatment when she returned home to Colorado. Tests determined she was suffering from “likely organophosphate poisoning.”
Organophosphates are chemicals that are typically found in pesticides. Knull described a terrible odor in their hotel room and recalled seeing someone spray something outside their room just before she started feeling ill.
Knull filed a $1 million lawsuit against Bahia Principe Hotels and Resorts when they failed to provide her with information chemicals used at the resort. “Honestly, all I ever wanted was the chemical name. That is all I ever wanted,” Knull said, adding, I could care less about the money.”
Symptoms of organophosphate poisoning can develop in minutes or hours, depending on the specific chemical, the amount ingested and how the chemical entered the body. Symptoms can include cramps, salivation, slow heart beat, excessive sweating, convulsions and death. Dr. Lee-Ann Jaykus, a food microbiologist in the department of food science at North Carolina State University stated that exposure to organophosphates could be a possibility.
Coulson said that he’s fairly confident the deaths are linked to something in the environment, and emphasized that the United States has tighter controls on pesticides and cleaning chemicals compared to other countries. “If you’ve been to one of these resorts they spray all the time,” he explained. “I’ll bet you dinner, (the cuplprit) is gonna be environmental.”