Two More American Deaths in Dominican Republic Scrutinized Amid Spate of Tourist Fatalities

By Zachary Stieber

The families of two Americans who said their loved ones died while visiting the Dominican Republic are under scrutiny amid the tourist fatalities over the past year under suspicious circumstances, which had numbered 12.

Even as Dominican officials dismissed any possible connection between the deaths, the families of a Kansas man and Pennsylvania woman said their deaths were mysterious and deserve a second look.

Relatives identified the deceased as Chris Palmer, a 41-year-old Army veteran, and Barbara Diane Maser-Mitchell, a retired nurse, reported Fox News. Palmer passed away in April 2018 while Maser-Mitchell died in September 2016.

Palmer’s family was given reports by Dominican authorities that showed his death was from a heart attack. He told friends he was feeling sick and was later found dead in his room.

“As soon as he died, I wondered if he was poisoned, if he was drugged,” Bernadette Hiller, who dated Palmer for about a decade and saw him just days before he died, told Fox News. “He was healthy as a horse.”

Palmer’s obituary confirmed he died in the Dominican Republic. According to the obituary, Palmer “was a salesman, scuba diving instructor, and was ‘living the dream.’ Chris loved life and adventure, spending time with his family, scuba diving, traveling, and meeting new people.”

It wasn’t clear where he was in the country when he died.

Maser-Mitchell, who was staying at the Excellence resort in Punta Cana, also was said to have died from a heart attack.

Excellence Resorts in Punta Cuna
Excellence Resorts in Punta Cuna in May 2019. (Screenshot/Google Street View)

She went to her room after complaining of feeling under the weather after drinking cocktails. She felt worse the next day and eventually went into cardiac arrest in an ambulance that was taking her to a hospital.

Terry Mackey, a companion of her son’s, said that they were with her at the resort. The nurse never drank too much, he said, adding: “In the 15 years I knew her, she never suffered aftereffects.”

She went in for a medical check-up before traveling to the Caribbean country and was cleared, he added.

According to Maser-Mitchell’s obituary, she was survived by her five children and a number of her friends. The obituary noted that she had been a volunteer for the Special Olympics, as well as for other groups, and attended a local church.

Congressman Urges Authorities to Respond

The newly reported deaths came as U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) wrote to the U.S. State Department and the FBI calling for a reassessment of the current travel advisory to the Dominican Republic.

The level 2 advisory was issued earlier this year before any of the suspicious deaths were reported.

“Reports ranging back to June 2018 indicate that several American tourists to the Dominican Republic have contracted life-threatening illnesses and survived. Unfortunately, at least nine American tourists without pre-existing illnesses experienced similar symptoms, including pulmonary edema, bleeding, and vomiting blood, and death during their visits,” Pallone wrote in the letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Director of the FBI Christopher Wray.

The latest death, he noted, was a New Jersey man. Joseph Allen, 55, was found dead in his room at the Terra Linda hotel on June 13.

“The circumstances surrounding the untimely deaths of nine Americans is heartbreaking, and I ask that you immediately take steps to update the bereaved families and ensure they are given all information on the cause of their loved one’s death as the investigation continues,” he added.

“I also urge you to expedite a reassessment of the travel advisory for the Dominican Republic to make sure American travelers have a full understanding of travel risks.”