Two Americans die in Vacation Poisoning near Cabo San Lucas, BCS.

Signs point to carbon monoxide in a vacation poisoning in El Pescadero, BCS, Mexico, killing two Americans.

By Rebecca Martin

On June 13, 2023, two Americans were found deceased in their room at the Hotel Rancho Pescadero, located in the Baja California Sur state of Mexico. John Heathco, 41, and Abby Lutz, 28, were discovered Tuesday evening. When paramedics arrived, there were no signs of life and it was determined that the couple had been deceased for approximately 10 to 11 hours.

vacation poisoning

Pool heaters and backup inthe exhaust of hot water boilers can bring the cold weather danger of vacation poisonings from carbon monoxide to the tropics.

Several possible causes of death were originally disclosed such as “intoxication by substance to be determined” while the family said they were told that “improper venting of the resort” and carbon monoxide was likely the cause.    The couple had been complaining of illness presumably due to food poisoning for several days prior to their deaths. Their symptoms had been severe enough that the family had organized a GoFundMe to cover their hospital costs. When the couple reported they were doing better, the families were shocked to then receive news of their deaths.

See also

The Hotel Pescadero is owned by Hyatt.

This vacation poisoning joins a growing list of vacationers who have succumbed to hotel poisonings in Mexico. Last year, three U.S. citizens were found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning in a rented apartment on October 30. In 2018, a family died in the resort town of Tulum. In 2010, a gas explosion killed seven tourists in Playa del Carmen.

In 2023, we are emerging from the aftermath of Covid restrictions and more people will be traveling as we return to life as usual. While fewer safety requirements and subpar equipment maintenance may be touted as concerns when traveling abroad, accommodations worldwide and at home are both at risk for the same deadly errors. We strongly suspect that the very low occupancy of hotel rooms during the pandemic created a cash flow crisis where HVAC maintenance was put off. Hotels must have seasonal professional maintenance on all their appliances but when the hotel is largely empty, such things get put off to reduce operating losses.

Our recently completed case against a hotel in Orlando was because of a decision to put off needed capital expenditures until the next calendar year. The poisoning occurred in early January.

The Tropics are Not Safe from Vacation Poisonings

We might assume that accommodations in tropical venues would pose a reduced risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. However, as we have seen, that would be greatly mistaken.

How does a hotel in a tropical climate have a carbon monoxide poisoning? One would think that without furnaces or boiler heat, there would be little risk for a carbon monoxide poisoning. CO poisoning comes as a result of incomplete combustion in a fuel burning appliance. How could this happen in an open air tropical resort?

Hotel poisonings in absence of furnaces in each room, happen because the hotel still has to heat its water, both for domestic uses like showers and laundry and often times for the pool. Our Orlando case involved the boiler for hot water heat, as did our recently completed hotel case in Arizona. While. most pools in Mexico aren’t heated, in a resort like a Hyatt, there it may have been or there may have been a hot tub. As there are no fuel burning appliances in rooms, there is no perceived need to have carbon monoxide detectors in rooms. But the flaw in that thinking is that the issue isn’t just where the CO is created, but the pathway it takes from the fuel burning appliance. The hotel’s central boiler is likely exhausted through multiple floors of the building. A leak in the pipe, or an obstruction to the flue, can not only cause a leak into adjoining rooms, but it can also be the reason that the CO is created in the first place.

In our Arizona case, a roofer put a metal covering on the boiler vent. The CO alarm in the boiler room never went off, but the deadly exhaust gases backed up into the crawl space of the building and then in to the rooms on the top floor of the structure. There were no alarms in the rooms because there were no fuel burning appliances in the rooms.

When the flow of exhaust is interfered with, the air/fuel mix in the appliance will be disrupted. CO is created when there is not enough oxygen for the flame. Backed up exhaust will often result in slowed flow of combustion air to the appliance. This combination creates a double risk of CO: the bad combustion creates the CO, the blocked exhaust means it has to go somewhere, which is often to where people are sleeping.

Where there is a Pool, there is a Risk of CO

The other problem that makes pool heaters so dangerous is that they are rarely located in the hotel’s equipment room. When the hotel has professional HVAC techs service the equipment, their focus is primarily on the appliances in the equipment room. The professional techs may never even go near where the pool heater is. In most pool heater cases, the pool heater hadn’t been serviced in years.

This most recent tragedy also brings to light the fatal outcome of carbon monoxide diagnosis. Much like the recent Sandals Resort poisoning in the Bahamas, Heathco and Lutz had both sought medical care when they began experiencing the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.  This is because the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can be non-specific. This means that they can be confused with flu symptoms or food poisoning.  The major difference between carbon monoxide and flu symptoms is that carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms do not include a fever. And carbon monoxide symptoms often subside when the patient has left the contaminated environment.

How to Avoid Vacation Poisonings

Carbon monoxide symptoms should be something travelers are familiar with.

“Symptoms may include headache, nausea and vomiting, skin flushing, muscle pain, weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness, coordination difficulties, confusion, or chest pain.”

Traveling with a battery powered carbon monoxide detector is also recommended. We urge that detectors be used in any environment where people are sleeping. It takes only one carbon monoxide leak to produce a tragedy that might have been prevented. Until those in the hospitality take this simple step to protect their guests, we need to be aware and proactive.

Our recommendation for a travel carbon monoxide alarm is this one:

Other recommendations for the travel size carbon monoxide detectors for 2023 can be found at:

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *