Grandfather of Toddler Who Fell Out of Cruise Ship Window Sentenced to 3 Years Probation
Salvatore "Sam" Anello, the man whose toddler granddaughter fell to her death out of a cruise ship window in July 2019, has been sentenced to three years of probation in his home state of Indiana, the Puerto Rico Department of Justice announced on Monday.
The sentence was passed down after Anello pleaded guilty to negligent homicide last year in connection with the death of his 18-month-old granddaughter Chloe Wiegand, who died after falling from the window in a children's play area of Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas while the ship docked in San Juan.
In response to his sentencing, Anello said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE, "After this sentencing, I feel a mixture of anger and relief. Relief that I will serve no jail time and that I did not have to admit any facts. Relief for my family so that we can close this chapter and move on together."
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.
Anello and his family have long maintained that Chloe's fall was an accident and not a crime.
Following Anello's sentencing, the Anellos' attorney Michael Winkleman claimed in a statement obtained PEOPLE that "the genesis of the Puerto Rican authorities ultimately pressing criminal charges against Mr. Anello" was the ship's captain initially saying he saw Anello outside the window frame of the boat, before admitting under oath that Anello's body was never outside the window frame.
"The discovery phase in the family's civil case against Royal Caribbean has just completed and it bears noting that there is not a single piece of evidence to support the argument that Salvatore Anello was aware the window was open," Winkleman added. "Instead, the evidence is clear that Mr. Anello made an honest mistake, but because of Royal Caribbean's failure to take any steps to protect its youngest passengers, it turned into a fatal tragedy."
Anello took a plea deal with prosecutors last February "to try to help end part of this nightmare for my family," he said in a previous statement posted on Winkleman's website.
According to Anello, he was holding Chloe against a railing next to what he thought was a bank of closed windows.
"I was focused on Chloe the whole time I was with her," he said in his 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."
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Anello entered his guilty plea in October. In agreeing to the plea deal, he avoided jail time and agreed 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," Winkleman said in a previous statement obtained by PEOPLE.
Since Chloe's fall, the family has filed a civil lawsuit against Royal Caribbean.
Winkleman added in his statement obtained by PEOPLE Monday that "the Wiegand family is seeking sanctions against Royal Caribbean for the destruction of critical CCTV footage" and has "also filed a Motion for summary judgment and asks the Court to find that Royal Caribbean is liable for this tragedy. As argued in said motion, the evidence is undisputed that Royal Caribbean was entirely aware of the precise risk that led to Chloe's preventable death and yet took no reasonable steps to prevent it."
"As to notice, a former Royal Caribbean Chief Security Officer testified that this railing and these windows were a well-known hazard for years," Winkleman added. "And a former passenger testified about a near fall incident that almost took the life of a small child just two years prior to Chloe's death. As to liability, the record evidence is similarly undisputed that Royal Caribbean failed to follow the universally followed industry-standard of abiding by window fall prevention codes."
"I feel angry at Royal Caribbean because it is clear that these windows never should have been allowed to have been opened in the first place," Anello added in his statement Monday. "You can't go into a single hotel or building anywhere in the United States where windows this high up would be allowed to be opened more than a few inches. Yet on this cruise ship, Royal Caribbean allowed this window to be opened by anyone, at any time, right next to a kid's water park."
Adding that he had "no indication to me that some of the glass panels in this wall of glass could even open," Anello said he knows he "committed no crime," but "decided not to contest these charges" in order to focus on the civil suit against Royal Caribbean.
"This is not case where an unknowing child approached an open window and fell out because the window was defective or improperly positioned," Royal Caribbean argued in their own filing submitted Jan. 2020 that also aimed to dismiss the case, according to The Miami Herald. "(The Wiegands' attorneys) do not dispute this fact. This is a case were an adult knowingly lifted a toddler over 4 feet from the ground and placed her into an open window frame 11 decks above a pier."
PEOPLE is out to Royal Caribbean for comment.