Three Americans died under mysterious circumstances and another was hospitalized Friday while staying at the Sandals Resort on Great Exuma Island in the Bahamas, authorities said.
Bahamian police went to the hotel after a staff member found one of the travelers, a man, unresponsive at his villa on Friday morning, police said in a statement. press release† Officials were then told that two more people, a man and a woman, had gone unresponsive in another villa.
The man in the first villa was lying on the floor. In the second villa, the man sat against a wall in the bathroom and the woman lay on a bed. All three were pronounced dead by a doctor, police said.
Chester Cooper, The Bahamas’ Secretary of Tourism, said on Facebook that the cause of death was unknown, but that malicious intent was not suspected. A fourth American, a woman, was flown to a Florida hospital where she was in serious condition, Royal Bahamas Police Force Commissioner Paul A. Rolle said at a press conference on Monday.
The couple in the second villa was found to be having convulsions and there were no signs of trauma, police said. On Thursday evening, the couple had complained that she was feeling ill, received treatment at a local medical clinic and returned to the resort, police said.
dr. Darville told Eyewitness News Bahamas on Saturday that one or more people in the clinic showed signs of vomiting and nausea.
Commissioner Rolle said samples were taken from the villas “to determine whether or not contaminants are present”. He said Bahamian authorities were working with a lab in Philadelphia to expedite toxicology testing as autopsies were performed on the victims Monday.
“We really want to know what caused this without speculation,” said Commissioner Rolle. He added that authorities were making arrangements with the victims’ families to repatriate their bodies to the United States.
Commissioner Paul Rolle identified the victims on Monday as Michael Phillips, 68, and Robbie Phillips, 65, of Tennessee, and Vincent Paul Chiarella, 64, of Florida. Mr. Chiarella’s wife, Donnis Chiarella, 65, survived and was treated at a Florida hospital, he said. The commissioner refused to identify the victims’ residence.
Chris Coucheron-Aamot, a guest at the Sandals resort, wrote on Facebook that the cause of the episode “may have been a malfunction of the air conditioning in the unit, causing a toxic refrigerant to leak.”
Mr Coucheron-Aamot did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday. In statements, Sandals and the US State Department both confirmed the three deaths, but declined to comment on more detailed reports on the matter.
“We are closely following the investigation of the local authorities into the cause of death,” the department said.
Austin Chiarella, a son of Vincent and Donnis Chiarella, told ABC News that his parents had traveled to the Bahamas from their home in Birmingham, Ala., to celebrate their wedding anniversary. He said he learned the details of the episode on Saturday during a telephone conversation with his mother.
On Thursday evening, Ms. Chiarella had fallen ill and had visited a clinic, but she decided she felt good about her discharge. Mrs. Chiarella and her husband went to sleep in their villa.
“She woke up and my dad was laying there on the floor and she couldn’t move,” Austin Chiarella told ABC. “Her legs and arms were swollen and she couldn’t move and she screamed for someone to come in.”
dr. Bahamian health minister Michael Darville told ABC News on Sunday that environmental scientists were involved in the study to make sure there was no public health problem, but that it didn’t seem necessary to build what he called a “makeshift facility.” and “mini hospital” because the episode appeared to be isolated.
He added that officials had “some ideas” about the underlying cause, but did not provide further details, other than waiting for toxicology and blood tests results.
in his statementSandals said staff had followed protocols by alerting medical professionals and local authorities as soon as possible. The company is based in the Caribbean and operates 16 resorts in the Caribbean, according to its website†
Johnny Diazo reporting contributed.