Salvatore Anello was taking care of his 18-month-old granddaughter Chloe Wiegand when she slipped out of a window on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.
A grandfather from Indiana, who had been traveling with his family on a cruise ship in October 2019, had the biggest shock of his life when a small mistake caused the death of a loved one. The family's trip began in joy but ended in tragedy, something they are still coming to terms with.
Salvatore Sam Anello was taking care of his 18-month-old granddaughter Chloe Wiegand when she slipped out of a window on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship in October 2019. She had been 11 storeys above the ground at the time. She fell on to the concrete floor when the ship was docked in Puerto Rico. Chloe's parents, Alan Wiegand and Kimberly Schultz Wiegand, blamed the cruise line for the missing window but Sam pleaded guilty for negligent homicide on October 15, 2020, according to People.
Puerto Rico's Justice Department ordered his arrest in October 2019 but he pleaded not guilty back then. "These criminal charges are pouring salt on the open wounds of this grieving family," Michael Winkleman at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman P.A., who is representing the family in a civil lawsuit, told NBC. "Clearly, this was a tragic accident, and the family’s singular goal remains for something like this to never happen again. Had the cruise lines simply followed proper safety guidelines for windows, this accident likely would never have happened."
However, a year later, the family came to the difficult decision that Salvatore should plead guilty so that they can move on from the horrific event. "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 said in a statement obtained by People.
The Puerto Rican Justice Department had previously said that the elderly man had "negligently exposed the child to the abyss through a window on the 11th floor." The family has always maintained that Chloe's death was an accident and not a crime.
Salvatore couldn't believe himself when she fell out of his hands on that fateful day. He said he had held her against a railing while she was banging on the windows in a children's play area but didn't notice that one of the windows was missing. "I was focused on Chloe the whole time I was with her. 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," he said in a statement previously, as reported by People.
He added that his granddaughter's death was a "nightmare" he could "never have imagined before." He defended himself saying that he "wasn’t drinking" and "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," he added.
The pain felt by him and Chloe's family is unimaginable. Not only do they miss her but Salvatore would be a constant reminder of her death. However, the family rallied together and are instead holding the cruise line accountable. They filed a lawsuit against them in December 2019. "If there was some kind of warning sign there, we wouldn't have ever been near it," the family claimed in their lawsuit, as per NBC.
"This is not some freak accident. This is something that was a preventable accident," Michael told NBC. "These windows are entirely not compliant with the standard for windows on cruise ships," he said.