Grandfather pleads guilty to dropping granddaughter to her death off Puerto Rico cruise ship

James Crump

Watch: Man please guilty in death of granddaughter who fell from cruise ship

Salvatore Anello attending court in 2019 ((Eyewitness News ABC7NY))
Salvatore Anello attending court in 2019 ((Eyewitness News ABC7NY))

A grandfather accused of dropping his 18-month-old granddaughter from the 11th-story window of a cruise ship has pleaded guilty to negligent homicide.

In July 2019, 18-month-old Chloe Wiegand slipped from Salvatore “Sam” Anello’s grasp and fell around 115ft from the children’s play area on a Royal Caribbean Cruises’ ship, while docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico, according to the Associated Press.

Earlier this year, Mr Anello, of Valparaiso, Indiana, said that he would drop his not-guilty plea to end what he called a “nightmare” for his family. He officially entered a guilty plea on Thursday.

Mr Anello, 51, who is colourblind, previously released a statement in which he claimed that he did not know the tinted window of the children’s play area was open and that he lifted Chloe up to the window so that she could knock on the glass like she did at her brother’s hockey games.

He added: “I wasn’t drinking and I wasn’t dangling her out of a window.”

Following Mr Anello’s guilty plea on Thursday, his attorney Michael Winkleman confirmed that the 51-year-old will not serve any jail time, and will return to Indiana for his probation period.

“This decision was an incredibly difficult one for Sam and the family, but 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,” Mr Winkleman said.

He added that the family want to “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 Kimberly Wiegand, filed a multi-million dollar negligent lawsuit against Royal Caribbean in December 2019, in which they blamed the cruise ship company for failing to provide safety features on the windows, according to USA Today.

Mr Winkleman said on Thursday that the family will continue with the civil lawsuit, and claimed that Mr Anello’s plea has no impact on it.

“We are deep into the process of discovery in the Civil case having already taken several depositions and numerous upcoming depositions including the Captain of the ship,” he said.

“Sadly, all of the discovery and evidence taken so far in the case confirms that this was a tragic, preventable accident and that there are absolutely no grounds to bring criminal charges against Sam Anello,” Mr Winkleman added.

In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit earlier in the year, Royal Caribbean claimed: “His [Mr Anello’s] actions, which no reasonable person could have foreseen, were reckless and irresponsible and the sole reason why Chloe is no longer with her parents.”

Puerto Rico prosecutor Laura Hernández announced on Thursday that Mr Anello will be sentenced on 10 December.

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