Grandfather changes plea over toddler's cruise plunge death

The grandfather of a toddler who plummeted to her death from his arms on board a cruise ship has changed his plea to guilty.

Salvatore “Sam” Anello, 51, was holding Chloe Wiegand when she slipped from his grasp and fell about 45 metres to her death from an open 11th-floor window on Royal Caribbean Cruises ship in July last year.

The family’s lawyers Michael Winkleman said Anello filed change of plea documents in a Puerto Rico court on Monday in which he agreed to plead guilty to a negligent homicide charge.

Under the plea agreement, Anello wouldn’t serve time behind bars and would serve his probation in Indiana, Mr Winkleman said on Wednesday.

Salvatore Anello has pleaded guilty in the death of his granddaughter Chloe Wiegand. Source: Facebook

He added that a hearing in which a judge would consider the plea hadn’t been scheduled.

“I took a plea deal today to try to help end part of this nightmare for my family, if possible,” Anello said in a statement. 

“The support they continue to give me has been beyond overwhelming and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for them.”

Anello was charged last year in Puerto Rico with negligent homicide in her death and initially pleaded not guilty.

He has insisted that he did not know the window was open when he lifted Chloe up to it, saying he did so to allow her to bang on the glass like she did at her brother’s hockey games. 

The 51-year-old told “CBS This Morning” in November that he was trying to stand Chloe on the window’s railing when she fell out of the window. He also said he is colourblind and that may be why he didn’t realise the tinted window was open.

Chloe fell from this window while being held by her grandpa. Source: ABC News

“From my point of view, at the moment the accident happened, it was as if this wall of protective glass disappeared. I was in complete disbelief,” Anello said in Wednesday’s statement. 

“It was a nightmare of the likes I could never have imagined before. I wasn’t drinking and I wasn’t dangling her out of a window. I just wanted to knock on the glass with her as we did together so many times before.”

Chloe’s parents sued Royal Caribbean in December, accusing the operator of negligence in her death by allowing the 11th-floor window in the ship’s children’s play area to be open.

Mr Winkleman said Anello’s proposed guilty plea in Chloe’s death would have “little or no effect at all on the civil lawsuit”, noting that Anello is not a party to that case.

“He’s not a party to that case and therefore it is not relevant,” Mr Winkleman said.

Sam Anello said he wanted to end the nightmare for his family. Source: WAPA TV

Royal Caribbean Cruises has said in court filings that surveillance video shows that Anello leaned out an 11th-floor window in a children’s play area on the ship for about eight seconds before he lifted his granddaughter to the window.

Investigators say the girl slipped from Anello’s hands and plummeted to her death.

The girl’s family claimed in a January court filing responding to the cruise line’s allegations that it would have been “physically impossible” for Anello to lean out of that window.

Mr Winkleman said Anello’s decision to agree to plea guilty “is in the best interests of the family so that they can close this horrible chapter and turn their focus to mourning Chloe”.

The lawyer said the family would also be focusing on “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”.

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