Family searching for answers after daughter dies at resort during vacation in Mexico

Mystery ensues after Abbey Conner drowned in a pool at a five-star resort.

ByABC News
July 26, 2017, 7:28 AM

— -- A Wisconsin family plans to file a lawsuit after their 20-year-old daughter died under mysterious circumstances at a five-star resort during a family vacation earlier this year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Abbey Conner, 20, and her brother, Austin Conner, 23, were found floating face down in a pool at the Iberostar Playa Paraiso Resort just two hours into a vacation with their mother, Ginny McGowan, and stepfather, John McGowan.

Abbey Conner sustained a broken collarbone and was brain dead before succumbing to her injuries in a Florida hospital days later.

“To this day I don’t think it was an accident,” Austin Conner told ABC News of the events that unfolded. He said that he and his sister had been drinking before their swim, but he could not recall how many drinks they had.

"We swim around for a little bit and we decide let's celebrate with a drink so we go up to the bar and another group that was already there, we just start talking," he said, adding that they did not know the people at the bar.

"The bartender pours out a line of shots and I take one and, you know, everyone else does," Austin Conner said. "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."

Austin Conner, who does not remember how many shots of alcohol he took, suffered a concussion and had a golf ball-sized lump on his head, the family said.

He and his sister had a blood alcohol level of .25 at the time of the incident, according to toxicology reports from the Playa del Carmen medical clinic where Austin and Abbey Conner were taken. The siblings' blood alcohol level was three times the limit in their home state of Wisconsin.

The family says a resort guest found Abbey Conner and Austin Conner floating face down in the pool. The siblings were transported to a local hospital, but the McGowans said they were not notified.

When the siblings did not show up for dinner, their mother tried to reach them."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,'" Ginny McGowan recalled telling a resort employee. "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 [and] explained that there had been an accident," she said.

When asked if he possibly drank too much, Austin Conner replied, "I've thought about it and I mean it is a possibility 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?"

Mexican officials ruled Abbey Conner's death an accidental drowning, but her family members say local police refused to investigate further into what caused her death. The family said they hired an interpreter and went to the local police department in person to file a report, but said police refused to take a report or open an investigation, saying they considered the event an accident. The local police did not comment to ABC News. The State Attorney General of Quintana Roo told ABC News there is no police report or record of an investigation into this case.

Abbey Conner's family has hired an attorney and plans to file a lawsuit against Iberostar.

"We need the hotel to allow the police and our investigators to access the employees that were there," the family's attorney, Florentino A. Ramirez, told ABC News.

Iberostar Paraiso Resort told ABC News in a statement earlier this month that its personnel “acted with urgency, following established protocols” after finding Abbey and Austin Conner in the pool. Both received “immediate medical attention” from an on-staff doctor, according to the resort.

“We are deeply saddened by this incident and reiterate our deepest sympathies and condolences to the family,” the resort said, adding that it “takes this matter very seriously and has always remained cooperative. The safety and security of guests is utmost priority for us.”

The resort is also defending itself against suggestions that tainted alcohol could have played a role in Abbey Conner's death.

Officials in Mexico said they have seized 1.4 million gallons of tainted alcohol from Mexican businesses over the last seven years, including resorts, clubs, bars, warehouses and manufacturers. The Mexican Health Ministry told ABC News it has no records of any adulterated or seized alcohol from Iberostar resorts.

Iberostar released a statement explaining its alcohol standards to The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel when the newspaper published an article last week on Abbey Conner's death.

"We work with a host of providers not unique to IBEROSTAR who service other hotel chains and renowned brands," the statement said in part. "Similarly, we only purchase sealed bottles that satisfy all standards required by the designated regulatory authorities."

The statement continued, "We are deeply saddened by this incident and reiterate our deepest sympathy and condolences to the family."

Ginny McGowan said she is remembering her daughter as someone who was "happy" and "on the right path, a good path for her."

"I guess I would tell her I hope she didn't suffer at all and I hope she's at peace," Ginny McGowan said. "We miss you."

When asked what message he wants to give to his sister, Austin Conner replied, "I say thank you for being there for me up to this point and I wouldn't do it without you. So thank you and I love you."