Vittorio Caruso, 56, of Glen Cove, died on June 17 in the Dominican Republic. He was the latest of almost a dozen American tourists to die in the Caribbean nation since April 2018. Earlier this week, Dominican officials said his death was caused by heart failure.
Caruso was a co-owner of Vittorio’s Pizza, on Cedar Swamp Road. He sold the business about a month ago, after deciding to retire. He was celebrating his retirement with a vacation in the Dominican Republic.
Ellen Caruso, his sister-in-law, said that she and the rest of the family were frustrated by the way Caruso’s death had been handled. Everything they have been told, she said, seems like a cover-up of something more than heart failure.
“We don’t know what happened over there,” Caruso said, “and it’s inconsistent with his health.”
The family, she said, called the U.S. embassy in Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital, when they learned of Vittorio’s death. An official told them that the embassy was not aware of the situation.
An autopsy was performed by Dominican doctors, but its results have not yet been sent to the U.S., Caruso said. And Vittorio’s body was embalmed in the D.R. without the family’s knowledge, which will prevent officials in the U.S. from doing an autopsy.
Everything has been “pushed under the rug,” Caruso said, and the discrepancies in the process of determining the cause of her brother-in-law’s death have made the loss even more difficult to deal with.
U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, of Glen Cove, said he knew Caruso, and that he was a nice man who made great pizza. Suozzi added that he had offered to help in any way he can, personally or politically. It is often difficult to obtain all the details on the deaths of Americans, he said, when they occur in foreign countries.
Suozzi also said that he had been in contact with U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat, a native Dominican who represents New York’s 13th District in Manhattan. Espaillat’s communications director, Candace Person, said that he was one of the first members of Congress to call for investigations into the deaths of American tourists in the D.R., and that he planned to visit the country soon to speak with government and tourism representatives to make sure the investigations are as comprehensive as possible. The Herald Gazette was unable to reach Espaillat.
Francisco Javier Garcia, the Dominican Republic’s director of tourism, told Telemundo that he had directed hotels to install cameras for the next 60 days to ensure tourists’ safety. The country is still a safe place to visit, Garcia said, adding that the recent American deaths have been incorrectly classified as mysterious, given that the causes of death in each case have been released.
Jeanine DiMenna, who owns the View Grill in Glen Cove, said that business owners in town have a special connection. Because the city is almost surrounded by water, it is a destination rather than a place that visitors pass through, she explained. As a result, it can be hard for businesses to attract customers from other communities, so most are in business mostly because they love their community.
“For a lot of the older businesses [in Glen Cove], we have a bond where, if we needed something, we could call each other,” DiMenna said. “We kind of take care of each other, and [Caruso] was in that group.”
Greg Minutoli, a funeral director at Dodge-Thomas Funeral Home, said that Caruso’s body arrived in the U.S. on Tuesday. He called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to see if the body would be safe for viewing in an open casket, a policy of the funeral home whenever a death occurs in a foreign country under suspicious circumstances. The CDC confirmed that there was no risk of transmitting anything harmful to those attending Caruso’s wake.
Visitation was scheduled for Thursday and Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. A funeral Mass was scheduled for Saturday, and Caruso was to be buried at Holy Rood Cemetery.
Ellen Caruso said that the family planned to take legal action after her brother-in-law’s burial.
Nadya Nataly contributed to this story.