Luxe Baja hotel where O.C. couple was found dead closes

Two bodies were found in the hotel room — one on the shower floor. Now an investigation has been launched into the deaths of an Orange County couple, and the tony Baja California Sur resort where they were found has closed its doors.

The $600-a-night Rancho Pescadero Hotel in the seaside village of El Pescadero closed Sunday, a spokesperson for the Hyatt property confirmed to The Times on Thursday. It’s a temporary closure while an official investigation is underway into the June 13 deaths. But a statement from the hotel says that Hyatt “together with the hotel’s owners … is conducting an extensive, independent investigation of the incident led by a third party.”

Hyatt did not respond to further questions regarding the investigation, only noting that guests planning to stay at the resort were being contacted by Hyatt personnel. Some were being directed to the Cape Hotel, a Hyatt property about 45 miles southeast of El Pescadero in Cabo San Lucas.

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Hyatt lists Lisa Harper of Rancho Resorts as owner of the adults-only resort.

Harper did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

The closure comes after John Heathco, 41, of Mission Viejo and Abby Lutz, 28, of Newport Beach were found dead in their rooms last week.

Forensic examiners working with the attorney general’s office in Baja California Sur state determined June 15 that the cause of death was “poisoning by [a] substance to be deter- mined.” That toxin is still being investigated.

The doctors added that they did not find evidence of violence and that the couple had been deceased “between 10 and 11 hours” before their bodies were discovered.

Hotel staffers found Lutz in the couple’s room and Heathco on the shower floor after entering at a little past 9 p.m. on June 13, according to a police report obtained by The Times.

Lutz and Heathco had initially received hospital treatment for what they thought was food poisoning, according to Lutz’s sister Gabrielle Slate on a GoFundMe page. They even appeared to be recovering before Slate was alerted that the pair had been found dead.

“We received a phone call saying that they had passed away peacefully in their hotel room in their sleep,” she wrote.

“We have been told it was due to improper venting of the resort and could be carbon monoxide poisoning.”

A former Rancho Pescadero manager, Ricardo Carbajal, said onJune 16 that resort management ignored signs of a possible gas leak and disconnected carbon monoxide detectors that had been frequently sounding alarms.

Carbajal said monitors rang almost constantly for three months in 2022 — which he chalked up to likely gas leaks.

Hotel Pescadero management eventually disconnected the detectors in January after multiple guest complaints, according to Carbajal.

“They knew there were problems with gas leaks,” said Carbajal, who ended his tenure at the resort in March. “Everyone was aware of the alarms and that the detectors were off.”

Two current employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared for their jobs, also said that hotel managers ignored complaints about the strong smell of gas.

“Housekeepers reported gas leaks, security reported gas leaks, maintenance workers reported gas leaks,” said one of the employees on Sunday. A few days before the guests were found dead, a housekeeper cleaning their room fell ill because of suspected gas poisoning, the employee said.

Initially, hotel general manager Henar Gil Rios said in a statement that she was “not aware of any threat to guests’ safety and well-being.”

Hyatt said in a statement on June 16 that Mexican “authorities immediately tested the air quality in the room after responding to the situation, and at the time, did not report any findings of gas or carbon monoxide and advised that the hotel was cleared to continue normal operations.”

Although Hyatt did not answer questions regarding its detectors, the company said it was closing the hotel out of caution for its guests.

“The property will not resume normal operations until our investigation is complete,” a company statement said. “The local authorities have not yet released their findings of their ongoing investigation which Hyatt and the hotel owners continue to fully cooperate with.”

Slate wrote an update on Sunday stating that the fundraiser she established had raised more than $30,000 to bring her sister’s body home for burial.

“Donations from family and friends have been extraordinary, and we have received donations from people we have never met,” Slate wrote. “We are so deeply humbled yet in awe.”

Times staff writers Alexandra E. Petri and Kate Linthicum contributed to this report.

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