Group of Jimmy Buffett Diehards Latest to Fall Ill in Dominican Republic

June 16, 2019 Updated: June 18, 2019

A group of diehard Jimmy Buffett fans from Oklahoma is among the latest in a growing list of tourists to fall sick while visiting the Dominican Republic.

According to the New York Daily News, members of the Buffett-loving Central Oklahoma Parrothead Association—dubbed the Parrotheads—traveled to Punta Cana’s Hotel Riu Palace Macao in April of this year and shortly after their arrival became violently ill.

Among them was travel agent Dana Flowers, who said that four days into the group’s excursion, he and other members began showing symptoms of a mysterious illness.

“I can’t even explain how sick I was,” Flowers told Oklahoma’s News 4.

He added that he “lost 14 pounds during that time and was really sick,” adding that by the end of the vacation, 47 of the 114 Oklahomans reported being unwell. Flowers was cited in the report as saying that many of the tourists were so sick they didn’t even leave their rooms.

“It wasn’t just any kind of normal sickness. It was putting them down and in their room for two-three days at a time. Some people were even longer than that,” Flowers told KOKH. Flowers himself remained ill for 19 days.

“I thought I was going to pass out in the bathroom, just because the cramps were so bad,” said Kimberly Ridlen, who was also on the trip and got sick.

Ridlen said she got better before getting sick again.

“About a week later, after I was home again, which was a Friday morning around one in the morning, I got hit with it again and had really, really severe cramping and diarrhea with bloody stools,” Ridlen said.

It is unclear what caused the Jimmy Buffett fans to fall ill. Flowers said some people tested positive for salmonella, but he did not. He added that one common factor to all the people who got sick was that they all swam in the resort pool, which had a swim-up bar.

“We feel very fortunate that nobody has died and it wasn’t any worse than it has been but there are still a few people, at least one, that has been sick from that time on until now,” Flowers said.

The case of one of the sickened group members, Sarah Ciancio, was so severe that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched an investigation.

“It lasted four days for me. My sister-in-law had it for more than two weeks,” Ciancio said.

Contaminated Alcohol?

The latest report of illness comes amid a spate of unexplained deaths on the island nation since January.

The death count rose to eight on Friday, when the family of a 78-year-old Ohio man revealed he died suddenly after dinner and drinks at the Dreams Punta Cana Resort & Spa.

Other Americans have reported getting sick after drinking from the minibar at the hotels, including a Brooklyn woman who claimed she vomited blood after drinking 7UP that tasted like bleach.

“My mouth was on fire,” Awilda Montes told CBS New York last week. “When I spit it out in bathroom sink it was blood. I was just irrigating my mouth.”

Sources have told The New York Post that authorities are looking into the possibility that bootleg liquor served at the hotel could be the killer.

The Post sent a reporter to one of the resorts and they said the vodka had a “strange, potent smell resembling pure alcohol.”

Lawrence Kobilinsky, a forensic science professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, was cited in the report as saying that the reported symptoms were consistent with methanol or pesticide poisoning. Methanol isn’t safe for human consumption.

“Adulterated alcohol is usually methanol added to alcohol or just plain methanol, which is very, very toxic,” Kobilinsky said. “It looks to me, from what I’ve heard and read, is that something was added to the drinks or bottles in those little refrigerators.”

The expert said that in alcohol for human consumption, “there should be no methanol.”

“If it’s there, it means it’s been adulterated or put there deliberately,” he told the Post.

The government of the Dominican Republic claims the deaths are an isolated phenomenon and insists its resorts are safe. According to Inside Edition, they have hired a crisis management team to help counteract the PR fallout from the bad press.

“I will not be going back to the Dominican any time soon,” Flowers said.

Jack Phillips contributed to this report.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @OZImekTOM