UPDATE: Mexico officials say Iowa family died of toxic gas at resort; no foul play
TULUM, Mexico — Autopsies indicate an Iowa couple and their two children died from inhaling toxic gas at a rented condo on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, but there was no sign of foul play or suicide, Mexican authorities said Saturday.
The prosecutors’ office in Quintana Roo said that “the cause of death was asphyxiation from inhaling toxic gases.” It said the type of gas hadn’t yet been determined, but added that “any violent act or suicide has been discounted.”
Photos released by the office showed investigators in anti-contamination suits and firefighters with air tanks examining gas connections to a stove in the condo in Tulum. The office said investigators “carried out a physical investigation of the gas connections in the room,” and the civil defense office of Tulum would issue a technical report on the findings.
In 2010, the explosion of an improperly installed gas line at a hotel in the nearby town of Playa del Carmen killed five Canadian tourists and two Mexicans.
Iowa officials identified the family as Kevin Sharp, 41; his wife, Amy Sharp, 38, and their children Sterling, 12, and Adrianna, 7. They were from Creston, Iowa.
The family was reported missing by relatives in their hometown about a week after the family left for vacation. Creston police contacted the U.S. State Department, and the bodies were found during a welfare check at the condo in Tulum, on the Yucatan Peninsula.
The Quintana Roo prosecutors’ office said the family had been dead for between 36 and 48 hours by the time they were found Friday at the Tao condominium complex.
Contacted Friday, the developer of the condo complex where the deaths occurred declined to comment.
The Creston News Advertiser newspaper in Iowa reported that the family flew to Cancun on March 14. According to her sister, Amy Sharp texted their mother the next day to say they had reached Tulum, but relatives didn’t hear any more from the family.
The sister, Renee Hoyt, said the Sharps were scheduled to return to the U.S. this week. They were scheduled to depart from the Cancun airport on Wednesday and fly to St. Louis on a non-stop flight. The family had planned to then drive about 200 miles to Danville, Illinois, to watch a basketball game Thursday, Hoyt said.
When the family didn’t arrive in St. Louis, family members contacted authorities, she said.
Investigators ruled out a possible robbery because they did not see evidence of a disturbance inside the condo.
Photos released by Mexican officials show crews and firefighters wearing masks while checking a gas stove in the condo.
They performed “physical inspection of the room’s gas installation” and are expected to release a technical report at a later date.
Jana Weland, a relative, told CNN the family arrived in Tulum on March 15. They were staying in a rental house they found through a vacation rental company. The last contact the family had with the Sharps was a picture the son posted on Snapchat of his feet by the water that day, Weland said.
The Sharps were supposed to return from their vacation Wednesday, Weland said. Kevin Sharp, who owns a beer distribution company, failed to check in with his employees that morning as planned, which was unlike him, Weland said.
Then the family failed to attend a basketball game Wednesday night in Danville, Illinois — a game Weland said the family was looking forward to. But the extended family waited until Thursday night to call authorities in case the Sharps had problems with their flight.
Stock car racer
Besides working in beer distribution, Kevin Sharp was a race car driver at southwestern Iowa’s Adams County Speedway, where he finished fourth in last year’s stock car series standings.
Sharp first got involved in the speedway through his beer distribution business, and eventually became a board member, track announcer Bob Harris said.
Harris said the Sharp family was tightly knit.
“Everything they did, they did as a family,” Harris said. “His family was involved — his son was working on the race car with him, cheering him on. Here in Iowa racing is a big family; we try to promote it as a family sport and (the Sharps) lived it.”
Harris said he last messaged Sharp on March 14, about a racetrack project. Sharp messaged back, saying the plans for the project looked great, and that he was traveling to Mexico.
The two were supposed to go racing together next week, Harris said.