Published On: Mon, Aug 1st, 2022

3 American tourists found dead at Bahamas resort identified


A Tennessee couple and a Florida man were officially identified Monday as the three Americans who died at a Bahamas resort last week after authorities said they fell ill.

Police officials of the island nation named the deceased couple as Michael Phillips, 68, and his wife Robbie, 65, both travel agents. The identity of the third fatality, Vincent Paul Chiarella, 64, had been previously confirmed by his family.

They were all guests of the Sandals Emerald Bay resort in Great Exuma.

Chiarella’s wife, Donnis, 65, was airlifted to a hospital in Florida in serious condition, Royal Bahamas Police Commissioner Paul Rolle said at a news conference Monday. The hospital, HCA Florida Kendall in Miami, later said her health was upgraded to “fair condition,” NBC Miami reported.

Officials said they could not yet provide a cause of death, and were expediting the toxicological examinations with the help of a lab in Philadelphia.

“Once those samples are done, our pathologist will be able to provide an official report as to an exact cause of death and determine exactly what has happened,” Rolle said.

Image: Michael and Robbie Phillips.
Michael and Robbie Phillips. Robbie Phillips / via Facebook

The deaths have cast a cloud over the resort hotel, billed as an “adults-only” enclave with 11 restaurants and a golf course overlooking a secluded stretch of beach that beckons tourists with its turquoise waters and white sands.

Despite the mysterious circumstances surrounding the case, officials said no foul play is suspected at this time. Rolle was reluctant to theorize what may have happened.

But the commissioner said that samples from the premises were collected and will be tested to “determine whether or not there was a chemical” leak involved. An unsubstantiated report on social media claimed there was a faulty air-conditioning unit on site.

“We really want to know what caused this without speculation,” Rolle said.

On Thursday, a number of guests were taken to a clinic for nausea and vomiting and were treated, the island’s health minister, Dr. Michael Darville, told Eyewitness News Bahamas.

Staff alerted police on Friday morning after finding three guests dead.

Chiarella was discovered in his villa on the floor of his bedroom, while the bodies of the Phillipses were found in another villa. Michael Phillips was in the bathroom and Robbie Phillips was in bed, police said.

“Both individuals showed signs of convulsion,” officials said in a statement.

Sandals Emerald Bay in Great Exuma, Bahamas.
Sandals Emerald Bay in Great Exuma, Bahamas.Google Maps

Chiarella’s son, Austin Chiarella, previously told NBC News that he was frustrated after being given few details about what happened to his parents.

The U.S. State Department also said it was “closely monitoring” the police investigation and stands “ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance.”

Michael and Robbie Phillips were no strangers to the experience of Sandals, which operates a chain of all-inclusive hotel properties across the Caribbean presented on television commercials as luxury getaways.

The couple ran Royal Travel, an agency in the Knoxville suburb of Maryville. Robbie Phillips also operated a travel website known as The Sand Lady, in which she said she was a “Certified Sandals Specialist” and “member of the elite Sandals Chairman’s Royal Club.”

Photos on the site show the couple receiving industry awards for their work and enjoying time spent in tropical destinations. The site said Robbie Phillips had worked in travel for more than 25 years and has three children and six grandchildren.

Sandals on Saturday confirmed the deaths, but declined to provide more information “out of respect for the privacy of our guests.”

“Nothing is more important to Sandals Resorts than the safety of our guests,” the resort said in a statement.

The company declined to comment further Monday.

On Facebook and her company’s website, Robbie Phillips would share photos of her travels with her husband and other guests they met at the Sandals resorts.

In her last public Facebook post on Thursday, she tagged her husband from Sandals Emerald Bay with several pictures of the beach.

Her enthusiastic message didn’t take the views for granted: “If you want the most beautiful long private beach with clear blue water and you like to hear the waves lapping, see sand dunes and hear the sea gulls talking — this is it!” she wrote.

Juliette Arcodia contributed.