Two Americans have died at the resort since last year, prompting an FBI investigation

By Steve Helling
June 24, 2019 01:09 PM

In the wake of several mysterious deaths of American tourists in the Dominican Republic, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino is removing their liquor dispensers from minibars in guest rooms.

Two tourists have died at the Hard Rock in Punta Cana since last year: David Harrison, 45, died in July 2018, and Robert Bell Wallace, 67, died last April. Wallace died after drinking a scotch from his hotel minibar. It’s unclear whether Harrison had anything to drink before his death.

Additionally, at least 7 other people have died at nearby properties, prompting an FBI investigation into at least six of the deaths. Some of the victims died in what appeared to be bizarre — and similar — circumstances, including at least one three others who had a drink from the minibar shortly before dying.

The FBI is not yet releasing further details about the investigations, and has not confirmed that they are looking into tainted alcohol.

Still, the manager of the Hard Rock Hotel tells CNN that they have removed the alcohol dispensers from minibars. GM Erica Lopez told the outlet that she hopes the decision will “provide more tranquility for guests.” She emphasized that the decision to remove the dispensers was made independently, and not as a reaction to the two deaths on the property.

The New York Times reports that minibars at the Hard Rock dispense beverages from large bottles of liquor that hang upside-down in a cabinet.

Reynold A. Panettieri Jr., a physician at Rutgers University who specializes in toxicology, tells PEOPLE that speculation tainted alcohol might be to blame for some deaths is a plausible.

“It is possible for drinks from the minibar to contain a toxin,” he tells PEOPLE, “so if that’s the common denominator, that’s always a possibility.”

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According to the U.S. State Department, at least 10 American tourists have died since the summer of 2018 after falling ill in the country — and dozens more have gotten sick.

FBI agents are on the island nation to investigate six cases: four from various Bahia Principe properties and the two deaths at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. The other deaths are not being investigated by the FBI at this time.

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People who have died in the Dominican Republic

Officials from the U.S. and the Dominican Republic say that despite the media scrutiny, the deaths do not represent a statistical outlier.

“Speaking generally, we have not seen an uptick in the number of US citizen deaths reported to the Department,” a statement from the U.S. State Department said. “While the overwhelming majority travel without incident, we want to assure all Americans that we continue to work actively with the Dominican authorities at the very highest levels to ensure that U.S. citizens are safe and feel safe while in the Dominican Republic.”

Carlos Suero, the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Public Health spokesman, told Fox News, “It’s all a hysteria against the Dominican Republic, to hurt our tourism, this is a very competitive industry and we get millions of tourists, we are a popular destination.”

The State Department has not issued an elevated travel warning to the Dominican Republic despite these deaths.