EXCLUSIVE: Grieving parents of toddler who plunged 150ft to her death on Royal Caribbean stand by grandfather after he is charged and vow to sue the liner for ‘inexplicably’ leaving a window open in family play area
- Salvatore ‘Sam’ Anello was charged with negligent homicide on Monday over the death of his 18-month-old granddaughter Chloe Wiegand
- The toddler plunged to her death on July 7 after Anello held her up to a window on the 11th floor of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico
- Parents Kimberly, 36, and Alan Wiegand, 41, plan to sue the liner for ‘inexplicably’ leaving a window open in a family play area
- Family lawyer Michael Winkleman suggested Puerto Rican authorities may have ‘ulterior motives’ for charging Anello instead of blaming the cruise line
- He told DailyMail.com the family understands ‘that it was an accident and that [Anello] thought this was a wall of windows’
- Winkleman added: ‘What surprised me is that there was an effort to try to have this case go forward in an effort to try to help Royal Caribbean’
- Anello, Chloe’s maternal grandparent, is being held on $80,000 bond and faces three years in prison if convicted
The grieving family of Chloe Wiegand are standing by her grandfather despite Puerto Rican authorities charging him with negligent homicide for letting the toddler fall to her death from the 11th deck of a cruise ship, DailyMail.com can exclusively reveal.
Salvatore ‘Sam’ Anello faces three years in prison if he’s found guilty of causing angelic Chloe’s death by lifting her towards an open window before she tumbled from the Freedom of the Seas while it docked in San Juan.
The 18-month-old girl died instantly after plunging 150ft on to a concrete dock but an attorney for her parents told DailyMail.com the homicide charge has not changed their view that Royal Caribbean is to blame for the July 7 tragedy.
Lawyer Michael Winkleman also posed questions over the integrity of Puerto Rican prosecutors, suggesting they may have an ‘ulterior motive’ in pointing the finger at Anello instead of criticizing the world’s biggest cruise line operator.
Salvatore ‘Sam’ Anello was charged with negligent homicide on Monday over the death of his 18-month old granddaughter Chloe Wiegand. The toddler died after he held her up to an 11th floor window of the cruise ship without realizing it was open
The girl’s parents, Alan Wiegand, a 41-year-old Indiana police officer, and his attorney wife Kimberly (left) 36, were on a different part of the cruise ship at the time. They are standing by Anello and plan to sue the liner for ‘inexplicably’ leaving a window open in a play area
‘It’s hard to not think that a lot of this is either for show or for some sort of ulterior motive,’ Winkleman told DailyMail.com in an exclusive interview.
‘I don’t have any evidence to support this, it is just my working theory. But what surprised me is that there was an effort to try to have this case go forward in an effort to try to help Royal Caribbean.’
Chloe’s mom Kimberly, 36, and South Bend, Indiana police officer dad Alan, 41, have vowed to sue Royal Caribbean for ‘inexplicably’ leaving a window open in a family play area.
They maintain Anello lifted Chloe up so she could bang on the glass as she loved to do at her older brother’s ice hockey games, unaware the pane had been slid open.
Winkleman said the family’s civil action had so far been stymied by both the Puerto Rican police and Royal Caribbean refusing to hand over CCTV footage capturing the moment Chloe went overboard, citing the ‘pending investigation’.
However that is likely to change now that Anello’s criminal defense attorneys in San Juan are entitled to copies of the evidence.
The elderly IT worker was quizzed by police in the hours after Chloe’s fall but left San Juan without giving a formal witness statement, blaming confusion, his extreme distress and the lack of an interpreter.
Chloe, 18 months, died instantly after falling from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on July 7, 2019
A diagram showing how the girl fell 150 feet from the ship’s 11th deck on to the hard ground
The toddler fell from a window on the 11th deck – shown above the balconies – on the Freedom of the Seas before it departed
The window on the far left is the one Chloe fell through while being held against the railing by her grandfather. The others appear to have handles which allow them to be slid open This photograph was taken by Chloe’s father after the accident
Winkleman said Anello voluntarily returned to Puerto Rico this week after a judge issued an arrest warrant.
He was told at a brief court hearing Monday there was probable cause to charge him with negligent homicide.
The offense is a misdemeanor under the Puerto Rican penal code however it is punishable by a minimum of three years in prison.
Judge Jimmy Sepulveda of the San Juan Investigations Chamber set bail at $80,000.
Anello will be able to return to the US once he has posted bond, ahead of a preliminary hearing on November 20, Winkleman added.
‘They [the Puerto Rican authorities] are using the term negligent. That means we know he didn’t mean to do it. But apparently they think the negligence rises to a criminal level,’ he said.
‘It’s my understanding that nothing has really changed in terms of the family’s viewpoint of Sam’s position, that it was an accident and that he thought this was a wall of windows.
‘He didn’t realize the window was open. He puts her up on a railing thinking that there was a window there and either lets go or loses grip of her for a moment and she’s gone.’
Chloe and her granddad had been about to embark on a seven-night Caribbean cruise with her parents, older brother, fraternal grandparents and Anello’s wife Patricia.
Alan and Kimberly Wiegand appeared on TODAY after the tragedy to tell of their grief over their daughter Chloe
Witnesses said Chloe let out a ‘blood curdling’ scream as she fell onto a concrete dock. She was being held by her maternal grandfather Salvatore ‘Sam’ Anello (right)
Chloe, the family said, ‘exuded love’ and ‘loved people’. Her parents said her first word was ‘hi’
The fun-packed family vacation was supposed take in the sights of San Juan, St Maarten, St Kitts, Antigua, St Lucia and Barbados.
But the first signal their trip had gone horrifically wrong came at around 4.30pm on July 7 when passengers in a dining area overlooking a pool heard screams.
Chloe’s mom arrived moments later and broke down as she looked over the side and saw her daughter lying motionless on the concrete Pan American dock below.
Doctors stationed on board the 15-deck ship raced to save the toddler but she was declared dead at the scene having suffered suspected blunt force trauma to her head consistent with a fall.
‘When they told me Chloe had died, I didn’t know she went out a window,’ Kimberly, 36, said in an interview with Today.
‘I just saw Sam standing next to the wall of windows, screaming and banging on it and there was like somebody trying to stop me. I just kept saying, ‘Take me to my baby. Where is my baby?’
‘I didn’t know she had gone out the window. Then I looked over, and it wasn’t water beneath, it was concrete. To lose our baby this way is just unfathomable.
‘I never want another mother to have to experience what I had to, to see what I had to see or scream or how I had to scream.’
Forensic experts studied the boat’s windows, furniture and layout in the wake of the accident for clues as to how the child could have gone overboard.
They found the area had been busy but didn’t obtain any first person accounts, with fellow passengers seemingly distracted by the pool, drinks and vacation plans.
The fun-packed family vacation was supposed take in the sights of San Juan, St Maarten, St Kitts, Antigua, St Lucia and Barbados
Officers did however obtain critical video footage from the Freedom of the Seas on-board camera system which was described as ‘definitive’ by police sources.
In the wake of the tragedy Anello was hailed by friends and family as a proud and loving grandparent who doted over his beloved blonde-haired Chloe.
Puerto Rican officials insisted a range of charges, from neglect to murder, remained in play but her parents said they didn’t blame him, insisting the cruise operator should be held accountable instead.
‘He was extremely hysterical. The thing he repeatedly told us was, I believed there was glass. He would cry, over and over,’ Kimberly told Today.
The couple said they intended to take legal action against Royal Caribbean, saying the firm was ‘obviously’ to blame for Chloe’s death.
‘There are a million things that could have been done to make that safer,’ added Chloe’s grieving dad Alan, 40.
‘Why on earth is a window open on the 11th floor without a screen or anything? Their answer was ‘we need ventilation.’
To date no lawsuit has been filed against Royal Caribbean.
‘This was a tragic incident, and out of respect for the family’s privacy, we refer you to authorities for further comment,’ their spokeswoman told DailyMail.com Monday night.
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