The grandfather of an 18-month-old girl who fell to her death from the open window of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship last year has pleaded guilty to negligent homicide.
The ship was moored in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in July 2019, when a young child, Chloe Wiegand, fell through an 11-story window while in the care of her grandfather, Salvatore Anello.
Anello, also known as Sam, was indicted in October 2019 by Puerto Rican authorities and initially pleaded not guilty. In February, he said he would plead guilty so his family could move on from the tragedy.
Puerto Rico’s justice ministry said in a statement Thursday that a judge had accepted Anello’s request. He will be convicted on December 10.
Michael Winkleman, a lawyer for the Wiegand family, said Thursday that the plea deal means that Anello, who lives in South Bend, Indiana, is avoiding prison and may serve probation in his home state.
He said the decision to change the legal basis was “incredibly difficult” for Anello and his family.
“But since the plea agreement does not involve imprisonment and no facts are allowed, it was decided that the guilt deal was in the best interests of the family so that they could close this horrible chapter and focus on mourning. Chloe and the fight against cruise safety by raising awareness of the need for all ordinary carriers to comply with anti-fall laws designed to protect children from falling out of windows, “the lawyer said in a statement.
Chloe was with her mother at a children’s water park on the 11th deck of the pool. Her mother had to pursue another issue and asked Anelo to monitor her, according to a lawsuit filed by the family in December 2019 against Royal Caribbean Cruises.
The family claims that the cruise ship company is to blame for Chloe’s death, a claim that the company categorically denied. Royal Caribbean did not immediately return a request for comment on Thursday.
In an interview in July 2019 on “TODAY”, Chloe Kimberly Wiegand’s mother said that the cruise line was to blame “for the fact that there is no safer situation” on the pool deck on the 11th floor.
“There are a million things that could be done to make it safer,” she said. “I know my mother asks people, ‘Why the hell is there an open window on the 11th floor without a screen or something?’ “
The lawsuit states that Anello “watched closely” her granddaughter, “when Chloe approached the nearby glass wall.” Anello followed and placed the girl by the window so she could hit the glass, but she slipped from his hands and fell through the open window.
Anello has repeatedly said that he did not know that the window was open. In an interview with CBS last year, he said it was colorblind and suggested that maybe that’s why he can’t tell the difference between tinted closed windows and open windows.
But the company objected that Grandpa “undoubtedly” knew the window was open.
In a January court statement in response to the case, the cruise line included a series of still images said to have been taken from a security video showing that Anello knew the window was open before holding his granddaughter next to him.
“When he arrived at the open window and while Chloe was on the floor, Mr. Anello bent his upper torso over the wooden railing and outside the window frame for about eight seconds,” the company said in a statement. “As Mr Anello himself had leaned out of the window, he was aware that the window was open.”
Nicole Acevedo and the Associated Press contributed.