By LEANDRA ROLLE
and EARYEL BOWLEG
Tribune Staff Reporters
AN investigation is ongoing into the deaths of three American tourists who were found dead at the luxury Sandals Emerald Bay Resort in Exuma on Friday after they were reportedly stricken by an unknown illness.
A fourth tourist survived and was taken to hospital.
Although speculation pointing to various causes of death swirled in the days that followed, including the possibility of poisoning from an air-conditioning leak, officials have not yet said what caused the deaths.
It has dealt a “heart-breaking” blow to the son of one of the couples who died. The couple was visiting The Bahamas to celebrate their wedding anniversary.
Acting Prime Minister and Exuma and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper confirmed the deceased victims were two men and a woman.
According to international news reports, one of the victims was Vincent Chiarella, 65, of Birmingham, Alabama. His wife, Donnis Chiarella, was the fourth victim that survived.
She was airlifted to the United States over the weekend, after initially being taken to the Princess Margaret Hospital.
Mr Cooper said while the cause of death was unknown, he was advised that foul play was not suspected.
In a statement, police said they were alerted to the incident shortly after 9am on Friday.
“Police at the George Town Police Station were informed by staff of a local resort that the body of a male was found in one of the villas unresponsive,” police said in a statement on Friday.
“Officers were dispatched and while enroute to the scene they were informed that an additional male and female were found unresponsive in another villa.
“On their arrival at the scene, they were directed to the first villa. On entering a bedroom, they found a Caucasian male lying on the ground unresponsive. An examination of the body was conducted, there were no signs of trauma found. The local doctor later pronounced the victim dead.”
“The officers were then directed to the second villa,” the police said further, “where they found a Caucasian male slumped against a wall in a bathroom unresponsive. A Caucasian female was also found in a bedroom on a bed. She too was unresponsive. Both individuals showed signs of convulsion.
“The officers examined the bodies and found no signs of trauma. The local doctor later pronounced both persons dead.”
Police said initial investigations revealed that the couple found in the second villa complained of illness the previous evening. They attended the local medical facility and on completion of receiving treatment, they returned to their lodging.
Police said the coroner was appraised of the facts surrounding both scenes. Police said they will await the results of autopsies before reporting the cause of death.
They are also awaiting confirmation by next of kin before proceeding with public identification.
The Chiarella’s son, Austin Chiarella, described his father’s death as heart-breaking in an interview with ABC News. However, when contacted by The Tribune yesterday, he would not give many details other than to say he did not know what led to his father’s death.
He told station ABC that he was alerted to the incident by US embassy officials on Friday and later contacted his mother, who complained about being ill on Thursday.
Mr Chiarella said his mother told him that she was feeling fine after being released from the clinic.
“She woke up and my dad was laying there on the floor, and she couldn’t move,” he told ABC news. “Her legs and arms was swollen and she couldn’t move and she screamed to get someone to come in the door.”
The Chiarellas were visiting The Bahamas to celebrate their wedding anniversary.
“I am just so heartbroken right now…My dad was everything to me,” he said.
On Friday, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Michael Darville told The Tribune that two of the visitors were treated at the island’s clinic.
He said: “To my understanding, (Thursday) two of the individuals presented to the healthcare facility in Exuma experiencing nausea and vomiting,” Dr Darville said. “They were treated at the facility. The doctor on-call made a recommendation for them to be airlifted to New Providence and subsequently they refused.
“So, this morning officials from the Ministry of Health were called to Sandals Resort for an investigation where three of the individuals were pronounced dead.”
Dr Darville said to his knowledge, the incident was not COVID-19 related.
Regarding the airlifted woman, Dr Darville said: “To my understanding, and it’s very sketchy, they were subsequently taken to the mini hospital in Exuma. They received oxygen therapy as well as various different medication and there were signs of improvements prior to being airlifted.”
Dr Darville said he planned to fly to the island to be a part of a full investigation into the incident along with other agencies.
“At 5:45pm, we have a team from the Ministry of Health, the Department of Environmental Health, the Ministry of Works, and the PHA who will be enroute at Sandals on Exuma for a full investigation along with the Royal Bahamas Police Force,” he said.
In a press statement issued not long after the incident, the resort expressed “deep sadness”.
“Nothing is more important to Sandals Resorts than the safety of our guests,” the statement read. “It is with deep sadness that we can confirm the passing of three guests at Emerald Bay Resort on May 6, 2022.”
“A health emergency was initially reported and following our protocols we immediately alerted emergency medical professionals and relevant local authorities to provide support and investigate the situation. We are actively working to support both the investigation as well as the guests’ families in every way possible during this difficult time. Out of respect for the privacy of our guests, we cannot disclose further information at this time.”
The US Embassy in Nassau has also offered condolences to family members of the victims, adding that officials are working with local authorities to assist loved ones in whatever way possible.
Meanwhile, government officials said investigations into the incident are continuing. Prime Minister Phillip “Brave” Davis has also been briefed on the matter.
“Once the remains have been legally identified, the pathologist can begin the process of identifying the cause of death,” Mr Cooper said in a statement on Sunday.
“We will provide further updates once more information is available.”