Family claims Mexican resort served 'poisonous' drink to woman before she died

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Mexico is a popular destination for people in Chicago, especially during the winter months. (WLS-TV)

The family of the young woman who died after being served alcohol during a vacation has filed a civil lawsuit against the Mexico resort and the U.S. based website company that manages the resort's bookings.

The lawsuit comes a year after 20-year-old Abbey Conner was found floating face down in the Iberostar Paraiso Resort pool in Playa del Carmen.

The 24-page wrongful death lawsuit outlines the events that unfolded the afternoon Conner and her family arrived in Playa del Carmen at the upscale, all-inclusive resort for a vacation.

The lawsuit says that the Iberostar resort and its website operator, Visit Us, "knew that alcoholic beverages being served at the Hotel Iberostar Paraiso del Mar were tainted, substandard, poisonous, unfit for human consumption and/or otherwise failed to meet bare minimum standards for food and beverage safety" and failed in their "duty to protect Abbey against risks of physical harm."

Abbey's parents, Ginny and John McGowan, said they became alarmed when their daughter and 23-year-old son, Austin, didn't show up for dinner.

"Probably the most excited person was Abbey," Ginny said. "We just sat on chairs at the side of the pool, and we're like, 'we're going to go up and get ready for dinner. You guys need to meet us in the lobby at 7:30.'"

Austin and Abbey stayed by the pool.

"We swam around for a little bit and decided let's celebrate with a drink," Austin said. "So we go up to the bar, and another group that was already there start talking...we didn't know them. The bartender pours out a line of shots, and I take one, and everyone else does. And the last thing I remember was like we are right now, sitting here talking, and lights went out. And I woke up in the ambulance."

The family says a guest found Abbey and Austin floating face down in the waist-deep pool, and soon, they were on the way to the hospital. But Ginny and John had no idea.

"It was getting close to 8, and I'm starting to get worried," Ginny said. "I said, 'I just, I need to call their room because I can't contact them any other way to find out where they are.' "And she said 'Is your husband here with you?' And I'm like, 'Well, yeah, he's sitting right over there.' And then she went and got the general manager and quickly brought me to John, explained that there had been an accident."

Abbey was brain dead, while Austin had a concussion and a golf ball-sized lump on his head. Abbey was flown to a Florida hospital, where she later died.

"She was on the right path, a good path for her," Ginny said. "And she was happy."

Authorities said their blood alcohol level was .25, three times the legal limit in their home state of Wisconsin. Austin says he can't remember how many shots he had.

"I've thought about it, and I mean, it is a possibility (we drank too much)," he said. "But how, if we're in a group of people, do two people at the same exact time just pass out in the pool and no one sees it?"

The family is questioning if tainted alcohol -- a toxic mix of cheap ingredients -- could be partially to blame. Other families have since come forward, recalling how they suddenly blacked out after a few drinks during visits to resorts in Mexico.

Mexican officials say they've seized 1.4 million gallons of tainted alcohol from Mexican businesses -- including resorts, clubs, bars, warehouses, and manufacturers -- in the past seven years.

The Iberostar resort denies serving tainted alcohol, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that "we only purchase sealed bottles that satisfy all standards required by the designated regulatory authorities...We are deeply saddened by this incident and reiterate our deepest sympathies and condolences to the family."
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