The northern Indiana man who was holding his granddaughter when she fell from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship has pleaded guilty in the toddler's death, reports the Indianapolis Star, a USA TODAY Network publication.
According to a family attorney, Salvatore "Sam" Anello pleaded guilty Thursday in Puerto Rico to negligent homicide. He was holding 18-month-old Chloe Wiegand when she slipped from his grasp and fell from the 11th-floor window of a ship docked in Puerto Rico in 2019.
Attorney Michael Winkleman said in statement that there will be no jail time and probation will be served in Indiana, where the toddler's family 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 statement.
Chloe died in July 2019 after falling 115 feet to the ground while on vacation with her family on the Freedom of the Seas cruise ship. The ship was docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico when she fell .
Winkleman previously let an IndyStar reporter and editor review Royal Caribbean surveillance footage that showed the toddler's fall from the 11th floor of the ship.
The video shows the toddler following her grandfather toward the big windows from a play area. Anello is seen leaning over an interior railing in front of the windows.
The video shows Anello lifting Chloe onto the railing. In an instant, she's gone.
Winkleman said the plea agreement has no impact on the family's ongoing civil lawsuit against Royal Caribbean. The family claims the cruise line was negligent for failing to provide safety features on the windows.
"We are deep into the process of discovery in the Civil case having already taken several depositions and numerous upcoming depositions including the Captain of the ship," Winkleman said. "Sadly, all of the discovery and evidence taken so far in the case confirms that this was a tragic, preventable accident and that there are absolutely no grounds to bring criminal charges against Sam Anello."
He added that the question of why Royal Caribbean allowed the window to be open without warning remains unanswered.
"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," he said.
In a motion to dismiss the civil lawsuit filed earlier this year, Royal Caribbean blamed Anello, calling him "reckless and irresponsible."
"His actions, which no reasonable person could have foreseen, were reckless and irresponsible and the sole reason why Chloe is no longer with her parents," the cruise line said.
The filing also claims Surveillance video shows Anello leaning out of the open window for about eight seconds just moments before he lifted the little girl.
"This is a case about an adult man," Royal Caribbean said in its motion, "who, as surveillance footage unquestionably confirms: (1) walked up to a window he was aware was open; (2) leaned his upper body out the window for several seconds; (3) reached down and picked up Chloe; and (4) then held her by and out of the open window for thirty four seconds before he lost his grip and dropped Chloe out of the window."
Anello has maintained that he did not know the window was open when Chloe fell. He has said he lifted her so she could bang on the glass like she did at her brother's hockey games.
In a statement released when he first made his intentions to plead guilty in the criminal case clear, he said the support he has gotten from his family has been overwhelming, and that he was pleading guilty to "end part of this nightmare" for them.
"Going forward, justice for Chloe must include attention being given to provide the safety measures so very needed on Freedom of the Sea. We need to make sure nothing like this will ever happen to another precious baby, or anyone else for that matter, ever again," Anello said in the statement. "There are clear safety measures that the cruise line has demonstrated they know are necessary by implementing them on other ships but have neglected on this one.
"I love you and miss you, Chloe, beyond measure."
Follow Justin L. Mack on Twitter: @justinlmack.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Cruise ship toddler death: Chloe Wiegand's grandfather pleads guilty