Family warns methanol could be possible cause of tourist deaths

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A black-and-white photo of UNCW student Ryan Turney before his untimely death in September 2018.
(Photo: Kylie Jones/WWAY)

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — In September 2018, UNCW student Ryan Turney died in Vietnam after his parents say he was poisoned by methanol. Now they believe some recent deaths in the Dominican Republic are suspiciously similar and they want to get the word out.

Crystal Turney knows how devastating it is to unexpectedly lose a family member.

“We just celebrated his 22nd birthday last week. And with Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, it’s been very difficult,” Crystal said.

Back in September, Crystal’s son Ryan was visiting friends in Vietnam when he suddenly became ill and passed away. She believes Ryan unknowingly drank methanol at a bar. Methanol is an ingredient used to make cheap fake alcohol.

“After talking to our friend at SafeProof, and having the medical records looked at, that it was 99 percent methanol poisoning, which is fake alcohol,” Crystal Turney said.

Ryan’s parents want to use their tragedy to help others spot the warning signs of methanol poisoning before it’s too late. After hearing about several otherwise healthy tourists suddenly dying while visiting the Dominican Republic, they believe methanol could be involved.

“Do we think that all of them are caused by fake alcohol or methanol poisoning? No. But it did when we read about a certain gentleman who had had alcohol out of a mini bar, Eric and I looked at each other,” Crystal said.

According to New Hanover Regional Medical Center Emergency Department Administrator James Bryant, the effects of methanol on the body can be delayed for 12-24 hours. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, and nausea, which could be mistaken for a hangover.

Ryan’s mom says one symptom, though, was unusual.

“The biggest difference was eyesight. He shared with those ladies that it felt like he was looking through swiss cheese,” Crystal Turney said.

Ryan’s father Eric Turney believes if Ryan knew the signs of methanol poisoning, he could’ve gotten the proper treatment in time.

“If somehow Ryan had known that there was a chance he had methanol poisoning, he could’ve relayed that the the hospital, and he could conceivably still be alive now,” Eric Turney said.

In the past year, nine American tourists have died in the Dominican Republic of non-accidental causes. The FBI is conducting its own toxicology tests on three of those deaths.

Ryan’s parents say before you visit somewhere out of the country, do some research to see if it’s a methanol risk area. And if you believe you’ve ingested methanol, get to a hospital immediately.

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