Newlywed spends honeymoon in Dominican Republic hospital: ‘It’s pretty terrifying’

DOSWELL, Va. — It was supposed to be the vacation of a lifetime. Days after their June 8 wedding, Derek and Skylar Martin, of Doswell, Virginia, flew to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic for their honeymoon. But their stay was anything but relaxing.

“Before we went down, we had some family and friends a little concerned about everything,” Skylar admitted, “but we felt comfortable and confident enough to go.”

She was referring to the recent spate of tourist deaths reported on the island nation. At least nine American citizens have died in the Dominican Republic over the past year, according to information from the US State Department, victims’ family members and the resorts involved.

A common tie among the deaths has not been established. The investigations into the deaths have included visits from health inspectors, including environmental health and epidemiology specialists, according to Carlos Suero, spokesman for the Ministry of Public Health.

Derek and Skylar Martin

Derek and Skylar Martin

The US Embassy in Santo Domingo has said it is “actively working” with Dominican authorities to ensure that American citizens are safe. It said Dominican officials have asked for FBI assistance for further toxicology analysis on the recent Bahia Principe, La Romana cases.

The Martins’ honeymoon took a scary turn after they dined at a Japanese Hibachi spot within their resort last Saturday night.

Skylar Martin in the hospital

Skylar Martin in the hospital

“[We] went to bed around 10:30 or 11 p.m. and by midnight, woke up violently ill,” Skylar said. “I’ve never felt more physically ill in my entire life, and I’m pretty healthy.”

Skylar said while reports of sickness and death out of the Dominican Republic seem isolated, her experience in the country left her with a different impression.

“After being down there and experiencing what we did and seeing what we did and meeting with so many people going through the same experience, I think we’ve realized this is very not isolated,” she said. “It’s pretty terrifying. Everyone is trying to get out of there right now.”

Derek said once his wife was hospitalized, they no longer felt safe.

“They couldn’t give us any answers as to how Skylar got sick. Where it came from? Was it alcohol? Was it pesticides? Was it food related?” he said. “They didn’t have any answers for us, so we didn’t feel safe staying at the resort. They didn’t have any answers for us, so we decided to come back after two and a half days.”

The couple is now back in the United States and continuing their honeymoon closer to home — at the Chesapeake Bay.

“We’re going to go do some of our own grocery shopping,” Skylar said. “Buy some Saltines, just in case!”

I’ve already booked a trip there. Should I still go?

The bottom line: The State Department has not issued a travel warning about trips to the Dominican Republic.

Because of crime in the country the Dominican Republic is under a Level 2 travel advisory, which means to exercise increased caution.

Matthew Bradley, a regional security director for the risk management firm International SOS, said that the Dominican Republic is still a safe destination.

“These incidents, while recent, in my mind don’t indicate Dominican Republic is any less safe than it was before,” Bradley said. “I would tell people to continue with trips.”

If travelers do decide to go on with their trip, Robert Quigley, senior vice president and regional medical director for International SOS, said they should visit a doctor before their trip, “especially if they might have a chronic medical condition or cardiovascular disease.” He said sleep deprivation and stress can “exacerbate underlying, and sometimes asymptomatic, serious cardiovascular diseases.”

Watch Jake Burns’ interview with Derek and Skylar Martin ahead on CBS 6 News at 5.

CNN Wire contributed to this report.

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Video shows driver ram pickup truck into Blackstone convenience store

BLACKSTONE, Va. – A driver is facing charges after ramming his pick-up truck through a convenience store in Blackstone early Tuesday morning.

Surveillance video shows the pick-up truck plow through the front doors of the Food Barn convenience store on South Main Street at approximately 5:00 a.m.

Police say the driver entered the store and stole several items before leaving the scene and causing property damage to another business in the Town of Crewe.

The truck was located in Chesterfield County late Tuesday morning.

The driver was also apprehended and is in police custody. Police say several charges are pending against the driver, whose name has not been released.

This is a developing story. Witnesses can send news tips, photos, and video here.

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Sandy Hook parents score a win in growing fight against hoaxers

HARTFORD  — The father of a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre has won a defamation lawsuit against the authors of a book that claimed the shooting never happened — the latest victory for victims’ relatives who have been taking a more aggressive stance against conspiracy theorists.

The book, “Nobody Died at Sandy Hook,” has also been pulled to settle claims against its publisher filed by Lenny Pozner, whose 6-year-old son Noah was killed in the shooting.

“My face-to-face interactions with Mr. Pozner have led me to believe that Mr. Pozner is telling the truth about the death of his son,” Dave Gahary, the principal officer at publisher Moon Rock Books, said Monday. “I extend my most heartfelt and sincere apology to the Pozner family.”

A Wisconsin judge issued a summary judgment Monday against authors James Fetzer and Mike Palacek.

Pozner has been pushing back for years against hoaxers who have harassed him, subjected him to death threats and claimed that he was an actor and his son never existed. He has spent years getting Facebook and others to remove conspiracy videos and set up a website to debunk conspiracy theories.

Lately, the fight has been joined by others who lost relatives in the Dec. 14, 2012, school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. After quietly enduring harassment and ridiculous assertions for years, some have changed their approach, deciding the only way to stop it is to confront it. Their efforts have turned the tables on the hoaxers, including Alex Jones , host of the conspiracy-driven Infowars website.

Robbie Parker, whose 6-year-old daughter Emilie was among 20 first-graders and six educators killed at Sandy Hook, spent years ignoring people who called him a crisis actor. His family moved to the West Coast, but still the harassment didn’t stop. He would get letters from people who found his address. He was once stopped in a parking garage by a man who berated him and said the shooting never happened.

“You are taught when you are young that you ignore bullies and eventually they will leave you alone,” Parker said. “But as time went on, and my other girls were getting older, I realized they weren’t stopping and some of this was getting worse and getting more personal.”

Parker is now part of a lawsuit against Jones, has testified before Congress and pushed for changes on social media platforms, such as YouTube, which announced this month it will prohibit videos that deny the Sandy Hook shooting and other “well-documented events.”

“It wasn’t until the lawsuits and until it became a mainstream news story that people realized they were being complicit in this and started to moderate the content,” Parker said.

Pozner is the lead plaintiff in several of at least nine cases filed against Sandy Hook deniers in federal and state courts in Connecticut, Florida, Texas and Wisconsin.

In the case against Jones, the families of eight victims and a first responder say they’ve been subjected to harassment and death threats from his followers. A Connecticut judge ruled in the defamation case that Jones must undergo a sworn deposition, which is scheduled for July in Texas.

Wisconsin’s Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington ruled Monday that Pozner had been defamed by Fetzer and Palacek, whose book claimed, among other things, that Noah’s death certificate had been faked, according to Pozner’s lawyer, Jake Zimmerman. A trial to decide damages has been set for October.

“If Mr. Fetzer wants to believe that Sandy Hook never happened and that we are all crisis actors, even that my son never existed, he has the right to be wrong. But he doesn’t have the right to broadcast those beliefs if they defame me or harass me,” Pozner said. “He doesn’t have the right to use my baby’s image or our name as a marketing ploy to raise donations or sell his products. He doesn’t have the right to convince others to hunt my family.”

Before the case went to a judge, Fetzer had said “evidence clearly shows this wasn’t a massacre, it was a FEMA drill,” referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“If you believe otherwise, then you are being played,” Fetzer said at the time.

A redacted copy of the actual death certificate is attached to Pozner’s lawsuit. Additionally, Pozner has had DNA samples taken and compared with those provided by the Connecticut medical examiner to prove that Noah was his son. He has put Noah’s birth certificate, report cards and medical records into the public file in his legal actions.

His goal, he says, is to make sure that “normal people” have access to the truth and aren’t persuaded by the hoaxers.

A Florida woman, Lucy Richards, was sentenced to five months in prison for sending Pozner death threats. She was also banned from visiting web sites run by conspiracy theorists, including Fetzer.

Christopher Mattei, a lawyer who represents the families in their Connecticut lawsuit against Jones, said his clients want to live their lives free from that kind of harassment. They also want these hoaxers to know they are affecting real people, who have already been emotionally devastated.

“When the grief process includes having to justify your grief or having to prove your child’s existence,” he said, “it makes it very difficult.”

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