Family members identified the latest victim in the recent string of American tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic as Vittorio Caruso of Glen Cove, N.Y.
His family said Caruso was retired. He recently sold a pizzeria he co-owned with his brother for more than a decade in Glen Cove, and decided to vacation on the island, News12 Long Island reported. Lisa Maria Caruso said her 56-year-old brother-in-law died on June 17. She said officials initially told the family that Caruso was sick. Then they received another call informing them that he had died. The Caruso family expect to receive a full autopsy report and are working with the U.S. embassy and the FBI to get his body released.
At least eight Americans have died in the popular vacation destination this year. As NPR has reported, there were similarities in seven other deaths — most described as happening suddenly, and several after an alcoholic drink. However U.S. officials have not determined whether there is any connection.
In response to the deaths, some tourists have changed their plans to vacation on the island. An official from the U.S. State Department told NPR that in general, "over 2.7 million U.S. citizens visit the Dominican Republic each year, and we have not seen an uptick in the number of U.S. citizen deaths reported to the Department."
Tourism Minister Francisco Javier García told reporters Friday at a conference in the capital, Santo Domingo, that the incidents are isolated. He said in any six-month period, it is not unusual for eight people to die on vacation. Despite rumors and assumptions, García said the victims' autopsy reports cited pre-existing conditions and natural causes. He said he's hoping to clear the Dominican Republic's reputation, ensuring that when people hear its name they know it is a "clean and safe country ... and a country who treats their tourists like royalty."
García said officials are enhancing internal security measures at hotels, including closely monitoring food and beverages.
The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana recently decided to remove "liquor dispensers" in its guest rooms. It says alcoholic beverages will still be available around the clock.
"All of the alcohol on property will continue to be brand name and sourced from the U.S., with the exception of a Dominican Republic specialty, Mama Juana, and local beer, Presidente, that we carry to support our community," the hotel said in a statement.
The Punta Cana hotel is also working to create a U.S.-based health care facility to guarantee that the on-site clinic is "complying with all international and U.S. standards of care" in case visitors need medical care.
Customer care assistance manager Penelope Polanco told NPR the decisions are unrelated to the series of reported deaths, but are an effort to ensure the "tranquility" of their guests.
"We don't want anybody to be afraid," she said. "If this is something that'll help them to feel more comfortable then we'll do it."
The FBI is helping local officials investigate three of the reported deaths.