Dominican Republic blames natural causes for death of third American in single week

June 26, 2019

The cause of death of a Long Island pizzeria owner who suddenly died in the Dominican Republic earlier this month has been revealed.

Vittorio Caruso, the third American tourist to die in a single week while visiting the country, succumbed to cardiorespiratory failure, according to an autopsy report. Caruso is the latest American tourist to die in a troubling string of deaths in the Caribbean country.

The Dominican Republic’s tourism minister insists that Caruso died of natural causes, but warned that “disciplinary action” will be brought if authorities find negligence at work.

“We wish these things didn’t happen,” he said. “But unfortunately, they do… That’s why we’re interested in knowing what happened to them.”

Heart failure in paradise

The Glen Cove, New York man died on June 17 at the Boca Chica resort in Santo Domingo, where he had been living for several years. His partner, Yomaira Ramirez de Jesus, told prosecutors that he began complaining of shortness of breath on June 11.

The Long Island man went to the doctor and was treated. But about a week later, Caruso called his partner complaining again of shortness of breath and chest pain.

She found Caruso being treated at home. He was then brought to a hospital in Santo Domingo, where he died of heart and respiratory failure, according to an autopsy report.

Suspicious situation in Santo Domingo

According to Dominican Republic authorities, Caruso was a drinker and smoker with a history of cardiac and lung problems, including heart attacks, high blood pressure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. But Caruso’s family members suspect that there is more to the story than a bad heart.

Caruso was the 11th American since last year, and the 3rd within a week, to suddenly die while visiting the Dominican Republic. The unusual pattern has some saying there’s something in the water — or the alcohol — in Santo Domingo. Caruso’s sister-in-law, Lisa Maria Caruso, said that the family was told Vittorio died after “drinking something.”

“We found out he was brought by ambulance to the hospital in respiratory distress after drinking something,” Lisa Caruso said. “We were told he wasn’t responding to any meds he was given and died. I honestly don’t know exactly what happened, as we have been told conflicting stories from different people there.”

Vittorio Caruso sold a pizzeria he co-owned with his brother in Glen Oak, New York about two months ago, according to family members, and went to DR to spent time at his time-share condo. Caruso’s family said that there were no warning signs in a medical check-up that he had before going away.

His elder brother Frank told the New York Post that the family is “very suspicious” because Caruso was otherwise in good health.

“He went to the doctor before he left, and he had no problems,” Frank Caruso said. “I spoke to the doctor. He called me when he found out he died, and he said he did not see anything wrong before he left. He could not believe the news… We think maybe there was something in his drink or in his food.”

Disturbing pattern in DR

Caruso was the third American to die in the DR this month, after Leyla Cox, a 53-year-old from New York, and Joseph Allen, 55, from New Jersey, died. Dozens more have fallen violently ill while vacationing in the country.

Many see a disturbing pattern at play: several of the victims, who range in age from 41 to 78, have died at resorts after consuming alcoholic drinks. Like the families of other victims, Caruso’s family say they have struggled to get straight answers from DR resorts and government officials.

“It is very hard to get a straight story from anyone there,” Lisa Caruso said. “They even wanted to cremate the body. We insisted on having the body sent back here.”

The tourist deaths have brought bad publicity for the DR, which hired a top New York PR firm to battle the reports. Tourism to the country has dropped, and airlines are giving customers the option of changing or canceling flights there.

Meanwhile, the FBI is conducting toxicology tests and has dispatched agents to the DR to investigate the deaths.

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Matthew Boose

Matthew Boose is a staff writer for Conservative Institute. He has a Bachelor's degree from Stony Brook University and has contributed to The Daily Caller and The Stony Brook Press.