Grandfather Pleads Guilty in Toddler's Fatal Fall on Cruise Ship, Family Supports Him
The grandfather who accidentally lost control of his toddler granddaughter on a cruise ship last year, causing her to fall more than 10 stories to her death, pleaded guilty Thursday to negligent homicide.
Sam Anello was charged with negligent homicide in connection with the October 2019 death of 18-month-old Chloe Wiegand. The girl fell out a window onto a concrete dock while in the children’s play area of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, which was docked in Puerto Rico.
A San Juan judge accepted Anello’s plea. He will be sentenced Dec. 10, NBC News reports.
In agreeing to the plea deal, Anello will avoid any jail time and will be able to serve probation in South Bend, Indiana, where he lives.
"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 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," Michael Winkleman, an attorney for the family, said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE.
In a statement from the Puerto Rican Department of Justice previously obtained by PEOPLE, prosecutors alleged that Anello “negligently exposed the child to the abyss through a window on the 11th floor” of the cruise ship while it was docked in San Juan.
Anello and his family have long maintained that Chloe’s fall was an accident and not a crime.
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Anello has said he was holding Chloe against a railing next to what he thought was a bank of closed windows in a children’s play area. But she slipped from his grasp, falling through an open window onto a dock below.
“I was focused on Chloe the whole time I was with her,” he said in a February statement. “As I walked with her I also saw that the ship deck was surrounded by a wall of glass. In my experience, any elevated public place I’ve been with that much glass has always been a protective barrier. …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.”
“It was a nightmare of the likes I could never have imagined before,” he continued. “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. I was just so horribly wrong about our surroundings. I was placed in charge of keeping my beautiful granddaughter safe and I failed. It will always be a constant nightmare every day and every night for the rest of my life.”
The family has filed a civil lawsuit against Royal Caribbean. Winkleman called Chloe’s death a "tragic, preventable accident."
“We will continue the fight for justice for Chloe and to hold Royal Caribbean accountable for its brazen failure to follow the standards designed precisely to prevent children from falling out of windows," Winkleman said.
Royal Caribbean could not be reached for comment.