Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., says the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) should assist the FBI and local authorities to determine what caused the deaths of at least 10 Americans who vacationed to the Dominican Republic since June 2018.
Schumer noted that the agency has offices in the Caribbean and its technical and forensic expertise could aid the ongoing investigations.
"Given that we still have a whole lot of questions and very few answers into just what, if anything, is cause for the recent spate of sicknesses and several deaths of Americans in the Dominican Republic, the feds should double their efforts on helping get to the bottom of things," Schumer told The Associated Press.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., talks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington. Schumer called on the U.S. government Sunday, June 30, to step up its efforts to investigate the deaths of Americans who traveled to the Dominican Republic and is asking the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to get involved. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Local officials have said the American tourists have died of natural causes, but the victim's family members believe authorities should investigate to determine if the deaths were caused by alcohol or misused pesticides.
ATF spokeswoman April Langwell said the Treasury Department primarily handles investigations involving potentially tainted alcohol. But she said ATF has offered its assistance and would work with other law enforcement agencies to keep Americans safe.
The FBI has already analyzed alcohol samples from at least one minibar in the Dominican Republic resort, Bahia Principe La Romana, and the Ministry of Health communications director, Carlos Suero told CNN that a toxicology test was being run on the samples.
The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana decided to remove liquor dispensers from their minibars in guest rooms following the deaths in the hotel. Family members have said that at least three people died after drinking from their hotel minibars in various resorts.
The general manager of the resort, Erica Lopez told CNN the decision to remove the liquor dispensers was not made in reaction to the deaths but hopes it will “provide more tranquility for guests.”
Paradise beach in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. At least a dozen American tourists have died on the island in recent months. (iStock)
Autopsies for nine of those who died at various Dominican Republic results were completed, however, authorities are awaiting further toxicology results with assistance from the FBI for three of those cases – including a couple who died together inside their hotel room.
Francisco Javier Garcia, the tourism minister in the Dominican Republic, has said the deaths were a normal phenomenon and not mysterious.
“It’s not true these deaths were mysterious. Science also exists here in the Dominican Republic,” García told AP. “We have determined the cause of death of all the deaths that have happened here. There are no mysterious deaths here in the Dominican Republic.”
The U.S. State Department says over 2.7 million people visit the Dominican Republic every year and they feel there is no reason to be concerned.
"We have not seen an uptick in the number of U.S. citizen deaths reported to the department," an official at the State Department told NPR.
Flights to the island have decreased 74 percent since reports of the deaths surfaced.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.