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Tourists Distressed By Unexplained Deaths In The Dominican Republic

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Some tourists planning trips to the Dominican Republic are doing some second-guessing on those plans. The FBI is investigating several unexplained deaths and illnesses at resorts in recent months.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Including that of Joseph Allen, who planned to spend Father's Day with his son in the DR. He complained to friends about being hot and decided to turn in early one night. Staff at Terra Linda Resort in Sosua found the 55-year-old dead in his room last Thursday.

JASON ALLEN: Talk about a gut punch, man. It was really nothing that I expected to happen.

MARTIN: That's the voice of Joseph Allen's youngest brother Jason. He says there was nothing wrong with his brother before the trip.

ALLEN: He had just gotten a physical - clean bill of health, nothing that would lead me to believe that my brother passed away of natural causes.

KING: Over Skype, Allen said he wants answers.

ALLEN: The death certificate we just saw basically says he died of natural causes with no violence, and then it says cardiac arrest. The toxicology they do, right now, is still pending.

MARTIN: Tourism Minister Francisco Javier Garcia said there's nothing connecting these deaths, so did the U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic. The tourism ministry says more than 3 million tourists visited from the U.S. and Canada last year. Toxicology reports could take a month to complete. Travelers aren't waiting.

JOE WEIGLER: It's caused a lot, a lot of problems, to be honest with you.

KING: That's Joe Weigler. He owns Shadyside Travel Agency in Pittsburgh. The Dominican Republic is big business for him.

WEIGLER: These situations have certainly been nothing that I've seen in my 45 years in this business.

MARTIN: Weigler says the media have overhyped this and scared his customers. About half of his bookings to the country are canceling or rebooking.

JENNIFER DONCHEZ: We have had to shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.

KING: Jennifer Donchez is president of VIP Vacations in Bethlehem, Pa. She says most of her clients are pulling out.

DONCHEZ: At least 70% of them have asked what happens if they change. I would say that about 25% of our weddings - our big group weddings - have asked to make the change.

JOE VANGO: I'm staying at an Airbnb - an Airbnb Plus. It's, like, an entire villa.

MARTIN: Joe Vango (ph) of New York is thinking about changing his plans. He and his girlfriend booked a trip months ago, his first ever vacation, for his birthday in August.

VANGO: It was, like, the day we booked the trip, we got news about the first death in DR. And we were like, oh, God. And it's just been, like, piling on ever since then.

KING: Now the two of them are thinking about other options.

VANGO: If the decision were, like, the plane leaves tomorrow - probably not going to go, to be honest.

MARTIN: He says his girlfriend told him Greece looks pretty nice.

(SOUNDBITE OF VACANT'S "RETURN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.