The grandfather of an 18-month-old girl who died after slipping from his hands through a cruise ship window last year will plead guilty to charges related to her death.
Salvatore "Sam" Anello had been holding toddler Chloe Wiegand while on board the Royal Caribbean Cruises’ Freedom of the Seas for a family vacation on July 7, when she fell through an open window and onto the concrete deck below.
At the time, the ship was docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Last October, Annello, 51, was charged with negligent homicide by Puerto Rican authorities.
"I took a plea deal today to try to help end part of this nightmare for my family, if possible,” Anello, of Valparaiso, Indiana, 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."
An attorney for the family, Michael Winkleman, announced the plea deal in a statement on Wednesday. He said Anello would not serve any jail time as part of the plea deal. (Winkleman is not representing Anello in his criminal charges but is representing the family in a civil lawsuit against Royal Caribbean.)
"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," said Winkleman, "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."
The Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety has not yet responded to a request for comment, but Winkleman said Anello will serve his probation in Indiana.
The grandfather has always insisted he did not know the window was open when he lifted his granddaughter up to it, and that he had wanted her to bang on the glass like she did during her older brother's hockey games.
"From my point of view, at the moment the accident happened, it was as if this wall of protective glass disappeared," wrote Anello in an emotional statement about how his granddaughter's death has changed his life. "I was in complete disbelief. 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," wrote Anello. "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.
"I love you and miss you, Chloe, beyond measure," he wrote.