Friday, June 14, 2024

Two US citizens die in Baja Sur luxury hotel

Gas poisoning appears the most likely cause in the deaths of two Americans whose bodies were found at a luxury hotel in Baja California Sur last week.

John Heathco, 41, and Abby Lutz, 28, were found Tuesday night inside their room at Rancho Pescadero, a US $600-a-night boutique hotel owned by Hyatt in the coastal village of El Pescadero, located about 70 kilometers north of Cabo San Lucas.

Both victims — who prosecutors said had been dead for 11 to 12 hours when their bodies were discovered — reportedly lived in Newport Beach, California.

The Baja California Sur Attorney General’s Office (PGJE) said last Thursday that autopsies suggested that Heathco and Lutz died of “intoxication by an undetermined substance.”

The PGJE said that no signs of violence were found on the victims’ bodies. Local police previously said that the suspected cause of death was gas inhalation.

The PGJE didn’t specify what steps were being taken to establish the exact cause of death.

Rancho El Pescadero
Rancho Pescadero is a boutique luxury hotel owned by Hyatt. (Rancho El Pescadero)

Current and former Rancho Pescadero employees who spoke with The Los Angeles Times said that managers ignored repeated signs of a gas leak at the hotel and deactivated carbon monoxide detectors so that their alarms wouldn’t disturb guests.

“They knew there were problems with gas leaks,” said Ricardo Carbajal, a former night manager at the resort, which reopened about a year ago after undergoing major renovations.

He told the Times that carbon monoxide detectors went off frequently during a period of about three months in late 2022, possibly due to the presence of several outdoor fire pits.

Carbajal, who left his job at Rancho Pescadero in March due to a pay dispute, said that managers disabled the detectors in January after repeated complaints from guests about the loud alarms.

Three current employees who spoke with the Times on condition of anonymity also said the carbon monoxide detectors were deactivated. However, one said they believed that only the detectors’ alarms were disabled and that security guards at the hotel still received alerts when gas was detected.

A total of four current employees told the Times that hotel managers, over a period of months, ignored complaints from both guests and workers about strong gas odors.

Rancho El Pescador
Former staff at the hotel have told the media that managers ignored what appeared to be a gas leak problem for months. (Rancho El Pescador)

“Housekeepers reported gas leaks, security reported gas leaks, maintenance workers reported gas leaks,” one employee said, adding that a housekeeper became sick due to suspected gas poisoning just a dew days before Heathco and Lutz were found dead.

Another employee said workers were concerned that an explosion could occur due to the presumed presence of gas.

“We are indignant that we reported this and this tragedy still happened,” the employee told the Times.

The Los Angeles Times also reported that “new accounts from two paramedics who responded to the deaths lend credence to the theory that gas poisoning was likely to blame.”

Fernando Valencia Sotelo and Grisel Valencia Sotelo, siblings who work for the local firefighters and paramedics service, fell ill immediately after going into the room where the two Americans died, according to a GoFundMe page set up to raise funds to cover their medical expenses.

“They were able to exit the room just in time before Grisel collapsed to the ground. Fernando was able to get himself and Grisel back to their ambulance and administer oxygen to himself and to her. They were then rushed to the hospital by other team members,” the page says.

Abby Lutz and John Heathco
According to Abby Lutz’s family, the couple checked themselves into a hospital overnight on June 11 because they believed they had food poisoning. They received intravenous fluids and were discharged, according to Lutz’s stepmother. (Facebook)

“… Our chief, Griselda Lorena Sotelo Amaya, is the first female fire chief of Mexico and the loving mother of Fernando and Grisel. As we grieve for the families of Abby and John, we are overcome with emotion that our chief almost lost two of her own children on this terrible night.”

The siblings are very tired but “on the mend,” according to an update posted to the GoFundMe page on Friday.

Lutz’s stepmother told the “Good Morning America” program that her stepdaughter had informed her family that she and Heathco spent the night of June 11 in hospital because they were unwell and believed they had food poisoning.

Raquel Lutz said her stepdaughter explained that they were given fluids intravenously and they subsequently started to feel better.

Chad Richeson, an uncle of Abby Lutz, said that his niece, in conversations with her family,  didn’t mention any unusual or powerful odors at the hotel.

Carbon monoxide (CO), which can leak from gas water heaters, stoves and other faulty equipment, is odorless. Inhalation can cause headaches, dizziness, confusion and death.

It is possible that CO was among a mix of gases leaking at Rancho Pescadero.

The Times reported that Hyatt officials initially said they didn’t believe the deaths were connected to a gas leak or another problem with hotel infrastructure.

The hotel chain issued a statement on Friday, saying that it was “deeply troubled by the recent allegations and speculation about the tragic isolated incident at Rancho Pescadero.”

“Authorities have not yet released the cause of this incident, and the hotel continues to cooperate on their investigation to understand a cause,” Hyatt said.

“We understand authorities immediately tested the air quality in the room after responding to the situation, and at the time, did not report any findings of gas or carbon monoxide and advised that the hotel was cleared to continue normal operations. The hotel continues to monitor air quality.”

United States Department of State spokesperson Matthew Miller said that U.S. authorities are “closely monitoring the investigation into the cause of death and we stand ready to provide any appropriate consular assistance.”

There have been other cases in which foreign tourists died in Mexico due to apparent gas poisoning.

The most recent case before this suspected one involved three U.S. citizens who were found dead last October in a Mexico City apartment they rented through Airbnb.

With reports from The Los Angeles Times, AP and The Guardian 

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