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Dominican Republic Tourist Deaths: Long Island Community Shocked Over Loss Of Former Pizzeria Owner

GLEN COVE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A former Long Island pizzeria owner is now the ninth American tourist to die while vacationing in the Dominican Republic this year.

The 56-year-old man was celebrating his retirement when loved ones say he suddenly fell ill and died. On Sunday, there were many unanswered questions about what happened to him during his trip to the island, CBS2's Christina Fan reported.

For more than a decade, Vittorio's Pizzeria has served up cheesy rich goodness for the people of Glen Cove. When owner Vittorio Caruso sold the place a couple weeks ago, friends were happy he could finally enjoy retirement.

Vittorio Caruso/Dominican Republic
Vittorio Caruso (Photo: CBS2)

"Every day he would talk about it. 'I can't wait to leave.' And then this is what happens," friend Bruce Hicks said.

MOREDominican Republic Tourist Deaths: Long Island Man Latest On Growing List

Caruso was on vacation in the Dominican Republic, where he owned a condo. On Monday, he suddenly fell ill and passed away.

Caruso's family was too emotional to speak on camera, but members said they kept getting conflicting information from Dominican officials about where and when he died. The family said he had no health issues.

"You see the stuff on the news and you just never think it's going to be someone you know, and when I got the text message last night I was like, I can't believe it," friend Antonino Calandrella said.

Caruso may not own the pizzeria anymore, but customers and neighbors all remember the long-time business owner. His unexpected death has sent shock waves through the community.

"He was always happy, always comforting, and this is really sad," Hicks said.

"Always gave me free food. If I was going there and it was a hot day, he would give me a bottle of water, a slice of pizza, and never let me pay for anything. Very nice guy," said Calandrella.

Dominican officials have not said anything about Caruso's death, but they recently doubled down on their claims that the rash of deaths are not a mystery. They say that most of the autopsies show the tourists died of natural causes. Caruso's friends are not buying that explanation.

"I hope the FBI or whoever is in charge over there is getting some answers," Hicks said. "What Americans want to go over there after all that's gone on? It's bad for the Dominican people and it's bad for the hardworking people on vacation."

Caruso was the youngest of six siblings. Family members said he was a hard worker who was looking forward to this trip to enjoy life. Now, they are waiting for his body to be returned.

Family members said they expect Caruso to be brought back to the U.S. sometime this week. They are also demanding that the State Department put out a travel advisory warning other tourists traveling to the Dominican Republic.

The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana said it is removing the liquor dispensers from guest room mini-bars.

Two American tourists died at the hotel after becoming sick. A 45-year-old man from Maryland died last July and a 67-year-old man from California died in April.

List Of Recent American Deaths In The Dominican Republic

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