The grandfather of a toddler who fell from an open window on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship in 2019, pleaded guilty on Thursday to negligent homicide.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, Chloe Wiegand, an 18-month-old toddler from Granger, Indiana, was on a cruise with family when she lost her life aboard Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas cruise ship. The ship was docked in Puerto Rico at the time of the incident, on July 7, 2019.
Chloe died after falling from the 11th floor and landing on the hard, concrete surface of the Pan American dock. She was playing with her grandfather, Salvatore Anello, in the children’s H2O Zone children’s water park when she fell from an open window.
Anello, who often accompanied Chloe to her brothers’ hockey games, where she enthusiastically banged on the hockey rink glass panel, said he lifted the girl up at her request while they were in the play area. He said Chloe slipped from his grip and her death was an accident.
In November 2019, San Juan Investigations Chamber Judge Jimmy Sepúlveda ruled that prosecutors provided probable cause for the arrest of Anello.
Although Anello initially pleaded not guilty to a negligent homicide charge, he changed his mind. He claimed wanted to plead guilty so his family could get closure and begin the healing process, NBC News reports.
The Wiegand family’s attorney, Michael Winkleman, said the plea deal meant “no jail time and no admission of facts.” Winkleman added it was a difficult decision for Anello.
“Because the plea agreement includes no jail time and no admission of facts, it was decided the plea deal is in the best interests of the family so that they can close this horrible chapter and turn their focus to mourning Chloe and fighting for cruise passenger safety by raising awareness about the need for all common carriers to adhere to window fall prevention laws designed to protect children from falling from windows.”
Chloe’s parents, Alan and Kim Wiegand, are still pursuing a federal lawsuit against Royal Caribbean, claiming the cruise line acted negligently when it failed to place a sign that could have warned others that the window was open.
Royal Caribbean Cruises file a motion in response in January. The cruise line indicated that video footage showed Anello leaning over the ledge at the window and looking out before he picked his granddaughter up and held her by it. Within minutes, Anello lost his grasp and Chloe fell.
“When he arrives at the open window, and while Chloe is on the floor, Mr. Anello leans his upper-torso over the wooden railing and out of the window frame for approximately eight seconds,” the cruise line’s court motion stated, according to NBC News. “Because Mr. Anello had himself leaned out the window, he was well aware that the window is open.”
“His actions, which no reasonable person could have foreseen, were reckless and irresponsible and the sole reason why Chloe is no longer with her parents.”
The motion also accused Anello of “recklessly endangering” the toddler’s life.
“The only reasonable conclusion from the video is that Mr. Anello knew the window was open before picking up Chloe. He nonetheless lifted the child over the wooden rail and the open window for a considerable period, recklessly endangering her life. There was no ‘hidden danger’ — Mr. Anello knew the window was open.”
Winkleman argued that the Freedom of the Seas ship didn’t meet industry safety standards.
“This is not some freak accident,” family lawyer Michael Winkleman told NBC News. “This is something that was a preventable accident…These windows are entirely not compliant with the standard for windows on cruise ships.”
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[Feature Photo: Chloe Wiegand/Family Handout]