A family's luxury vacation ended in tragedy when a brother and sister in their early 20s drank by the pool and were found floating face down and unconscious at a five-star Mexican resort. The girl died.
Abbey Conner, 20, and her brother Austin, 22 were on a family vacation to Paraiso del Mar a five star resort just north of Playa del Carmen, Mexico. They had drinks at the pool bar. Next thing Abbey was found floating in the pool, foam coming out her nose. Austin was also found floating in the pool. Abbey later died after she was declared brain dead.
The family from Pewaukee, Wisconsin were on the resort property for only a couple of hours with their mother Ginny and their stepfather John McGowan, before both Abbey and Austin were found face down in the pool.
After Abbey was declared brain dead she was eventually taken off life support.
The last thing Austin remembers is doing a shot that looked like a 'Jägerbomb' - a shot of Jägermeister commonly mixed with beer or Red Bull, with a group of guys that had invited them for a drink with their group. They drank one together and that was it.
The next thing Austin recalls is waking up in an ambulance.
"I've been in college for five years and had my fair share of drinks before," Austin said.
"No way in hell I'm putting my face down in a pool and going to sleep."
"Knowing that we got played or are victims of some sick person drugging us is almost surreal," he said.
At 6'2 and 155lbs, he didn't feel drunk before he blacked out. They also were meeting their parents for dinner and weren't looking to get drunk.
Toxicology reports from the Playa del Carmen medical clinic show his blood-alcohol level was 0.26, more than three times the limit considered by Wisconsin law to be impaired. Abbey's was 0.25.
He and Abbey had already had four or five tequila shots.
Blood-alcohol content of 0.25 and higher can cause severe drowsiness, confusion, vomiting, slurred speech, lack of balance, loss of motor skills, even to the point of inability to stand or walk, and unconsciousness.
The family said they booked their trip thinking it was the safest place to get away and unwind.
Austin said neither he nor Abbey had taken any type of relaxant or other pills on the plane or once in Mexico. And although they had smoked marijuana in the US, they had not smoked anything in Mexico.
At 130 pounds, she would have to drink about seven shots in one hour to have a level of 0.25.
"Somebody had to slip them some type of drug," said Bill Conner, Austin and Abbey's father. Conner lives just outside Madison; he was not at the resort.
Ginny and John had come back from a walk along the beach and was waiting to meet her children in the lobby to head to dinner. When they never showed she asked the hotel staff to ring their rooms.
The staffer looked anxious and got the manager, they told Ginny she needed to get John and that both of her children had been taken to the hospital.
When the McGowans arrived at Hospiten Riviera Maya is a small medical center about 14 miles away, Austin was sedated. Doctors said he was stable. He had had a golf-ball sized lump on his forehead and had suffered a severe concussion. But he had been conscious. He would be OK.
Abbey's outlook was far worse. She was on a ventilator and unresponsive, her collarbone was cracked. Abbey was in a coma.
Hospiten Riviera Maya is not the biggest emergency care center in Playa del Carmen. Its also not the closest to Iberostar's cluster of resorts on the northern stretch of the beach, which includes Paraiso del Mar.
Abbey's later medical reports would read, "Anoxic brain injury" and "Cerebral edema." Lack of oxygen to the brain and cerebral inflammation.
Doctors were preparing to move her to a hospital in Cancun. From there, she was flown to Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
After a couple of days of testing, doctors in the US confirmed what those in Mexico had concluded. Abbey was brain-dead.
Abbey had made it clear years earlier when she got her driver's license that she wanted to donate her organs when she died.
On January 12, her family decided to withdraw life support.
Six months after the tragedy and the family still doesn't know what happened to Abbey.
When Abbey and Austin's stepdad, John, and Austin hired a translator and went to file a police report a few days after the incident at the resort, they say the police resisted launching an investigation, insisting it was an accidental drowning.
Within weeks, the McGowans hired an American law firm with a sister office in Mexico to help get answers. On Monday, they received their attorney's report.
It raises even more questions.
On May 30, an attorney in Mexico inquired at the police department and found they had done a limited investigation. Police had interviewed three hotel staffers. The attorney's report doesn't say when the interviews took place.
The McGowans' American attorney, Florentino Ramirez, said he puts little credence in the police report.
"It's all too convenient," he said. "If it was an accident, where was everybody? It just doesn't make sense. There are too many open ends."
He suspects there could have been a fight, maybe with another guest or with hotel staff, that Austin cannot remember. "He gets hit over the head and goes down. That happens in 15 seconds. ... That's one possibility."
The police report did not contain any statements from hotel guests, the bartender or a woman who reportedly alerted hotel staff after seeing Abbey and Austin having trouble getting out of the pool. It does not contain key details from the medical clinic that received Abbey and Austin by ambulance.
The statements from the three staffers - the pool manager and two security guards - all indicate they arrived on the scene, pulled the kids from the water and performed CPR on Abbey. She was unconscious with a low pulse and spitting up foam from her nose and mouth as they tried to revive her, they all said.
Austin was going under and began moving and spitting up water as they pulled him out, they said.
Abbey "was seen" drunk at 7:03 sitting on the edge of the pool, they said, where the water was less than 4-feet deep. The report does not say who actually saw the brother and sister. It also notes security guards were nearby, 20 to 30 seconds away.
The McGowans just saw the police report for the first time this week.
Bill Conner, Abbey's dad, still hasn't seen it.
On Monday, he completed a more than 2500-mile bike ride from Madison to the hospital in Fort Lauderdale, where Abbey spent her final days. The weeks he spent pedaling helped him work through some of his grief and at the same time raise awareness about the importance of organ donation. All of Abbey's uninjured organs were donated.
"I still can't believe this happened," Conner said. "I'm still waiting for my daughter to walk through the door. This couldn't have happened ... in the middle of the bar, two adults, floating in the pool long enough to drown."