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Hard Rock Hotel in Dominican Republic to remove liquor dispensers from minibars after tourist deaths

Posted at 3:04 PM, Jun 23, 2019

The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino is removing liquor dispensers from guest room minibars at its resort in Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic, the general manager of the resort told CNN.

Hard Rock Hotel and Casino decided last week to remove the liquor dispensers and hopes to "provide more tranquility for guests," GM Erica Lopez said. The decision to remove the dispensers was made independently and not as a result of the two deaths that happened at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino at Punta Cana, Lopez added.

The decision follows a series of American tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic, some of which may have involved liquor.

At least nine American citizens have died during or after stays at Dominican Republic resorts over the past year, according to information from the State Department, family members and the resorts involved.

But officials in the Dominican Republic and the United States have not said the deaths are connected. A US State Department official said Friday there has not been a unusual spike in reported deaths from the Dominican Republic, and the State Department has not issued a travel warning about trips to the country specific to these deaths.

The Dominican Republic's top tourism official also downplayed what he called "exaggerated" reports about the deaths.

"It's not true that there has been an avalanche of American tourists dying in our country, and it's not true that we have mysterious deaths," Tourism Minister Francisco Javier Garcia told reporters.

Two deaths at Hard Rock Hotel

Two of the deaths occurred at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana.

David Harrison, 45, of Brandywine, Maryland, died at the hotel in July 2018, according to his widow, Dawn McCoy. They were celebrating an anniversary, and she said her husband returned from a snorkeling excursion one day earlier and he said he wasn't feeling well.

Early the next morning, she said, he was sweating and unable to get up before he died. Local authorities listed the cause of death as a heart attack and pulmonary edema.

Robert Wallace, a 67-year-old resident of Turlock, California, died after becoming ill at the hotel April 12, relatives told CNN affiliate KTXL . Tommy Tickenhoff, his son-in-law, told the station that Wallace became sick after drinking scotch from a minibar.

Three other tourist deaths occurred at the Grand Bahia Principe resort in La Romana. Samples taken from at least one minibar there are being tested by the FBI as part of the agency's collaboration with Dominican Republic authorities, Ministry of Health spokesman Carlos Suero said last week.

Suero added that an extensive collection of samples is taken by Dominican authorities when someone dies in a hotel room. Minibars are tested for bacteria and water from showers and sinks are examined, he said.

The FBI is assisting with the toxicology tests of three of the nine Americans who have died in the Dominican Republic in the past year, he said.

Tourism last year represented more than 17% of the country's economy, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.

And about 6.5 million tourists visited the Dominican Republic last year, more than any other Caribbean nation, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization. The United States accounted for 2.2 million of those tourists -- more than any other country in the region.