Mystery remains in Bahamas resort deaths as US victims’ families request outside pathologist

Three American tourists were found dead earlier this month at Sandals Emerald Bay, and a fourth was hospitalised

Sheila Flynn
Thursday 19 May 2022 18:55
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Three tourists found dead at Bahamas resort
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Officials are still awaiting toxicology and autopsy results in the deaths of three US tourists discovered unresponsive at Sandals Emerald Bay on the island of Exuma in the Bahamas - as the victims’ families demand answers.

Relatives have requested their own pathologist be brought in to investigate the mysterious deaths of Tennessee couple Michael and Robbie Phillips and Vincent Chiarella, who was staying in a separate but adjoining villa at the resort, officials said.

Mr Chiarella’s wife, Donnis, raised the alarm after waking up on 6 May unable to move, and was later airlifted to a Florida hospital, where her condition was reportedly improving last week.

There have been “request by family members of the deceased to bring in a pathologist from abroad to do another autopsy because, you know, to move bodies across water, they have to be embalmed,” Health Minister Michael Darville told reporters this week.

“We are willing to assist anyone who wants to get to the bottom of their loved ones [deaths], and so those requests are being entertained,” Dr Darville said, adding that he was “not sure exactly where [the requests] are at this point.”

Autopsies were completed in the Bahamas last week and samples have been sent “to a very reliable lab in the United States,” Dr Darville added.

Three US tourists were found dead earlier this month and one was hospitalised after falling ill in separate villas within the same building at Sandals Emerald Bay on the island of Exuma in the Bahamas; a cause of death has yet to be released

Bahamas Commissioner of Police Paul Rolle said last week that preliminary test results were expected within seven days but final reports could take weeks.

Meanwhile, Bahamas’ Deputy Prime Minister, Isaac Chester Cooper, travelled this week to Exuma for a memorial service for the victims.

“We consider our guests family, so when persons come to the island, they make friends, they make connections with the employees, people in the community, so we grieve as they grieve,” Mr Chester said.

“It’s important that we go through this process here tonight to really pray for strength of all persons involved - and this is a part of the reason why I thought it’s important for me to come here to show support for all of the families.”

The general manager of Sandals Emerald Bay spoke at the memorial, saying the resort extended “our condolences to the family and we continue to keep the families and our team members in our thoughts and prayers. Thank you all from the very bottom of our hearts for all of the support that you have given to us and the families.”

All four victims felt unwell and sought medical treatment the night before the tragic discovery, police said last week. The Chiarellas were visiting from Florida, where they were living after spending most of their lives in Alabama.

MIchael and Robbie Phillips, grandparents from Tennessee, ran a travel agency, with Mrs Phillips particularly focusing on promoting Sandals properties as “The Sand Lady.”

In her final Facebook post, she raved about Sandals Emerald Bay.

MIke Phillips, and his wife, Robbie, were found dead last week in their villa at Sandals Emerald Bay in the Bahamas. They owned a Tennessee travel agency - specialising in Sandals resorts

After being treated at separate times at an island health center, both couples returned to their villas on Thursday, 5 May. Mrs Chiarella woke up the next morning to find herself paralysed.

“She woke up and my dad was laying there on the floor, and she couldn’t move,” the Chiarellas’ son, Austin, 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.”

His parents, both in their mid-60s, had been staying at the luxurious adults-only resort to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

“I am just so heartbroken right now,” Mr Chiarella said. “My dad was everything to me.”

The Phillips family said last week that they were similarly devastated.

“Our hearts are grieving and broken but full of hope,” the family said in a statement provided to The Independent last week by the couple’s daughter, Kali Hanson. “We know our mom and dad are experiencing the fullness of joy in our heavenly Father’s presence. We already miss them terribly.

“Our parents left a legacy of faith in Jesus and generously loved their family and friends. Thank you for respecting our family’s privacy at this time.”

A police statement following the deaths said there were no signs of trauama in the Chiarellas’ villa but the couple from Tennessee showed “signs of convulsion”.

Detectives from New Providence – the country’s most populous island and site of the capital, Nassau – travelled to Exuma to investigate the deaths, the statement said.

The cause of the illness and deaths remains a mystery, but another guest at the same Sandals property posted on Facebook that the situation “sounds like it may have been a fault with the a/c.”

“It was hard to sleep last night – every time the a/c came on, I woke up,” Chris Coucheron-Aamot wrote, according to the New York Post.

Air conditioners utilise toxic coolants – often Freon – which are odorless but can be deadly if inhaled for prolonged periods of time.

Other guests complained of a strong odor of insecticide at the resort around the time of the tourists’ deaths.

Last week, however, RBPF said investigators were looking at “whether it was some food or something else that caused” the deaths.

In a statement, Sandals Resorts said it was cooperating with the investigation.

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