The family of a little girl who died in a fall from the 11th floor of a cruise ship will sue Royal Caribbean and call for safer windows on luxury ocean liners.
Chloe Wiegand's parents Kim and Alan Wiegand; her grandfather, Salvatore "Sam" Anello; and the family's attorney Michael Winkleman announced the lawsuit Wednesday morning at the Fraternal Order of Police lodge in South Bend, Indiana, reports the IndyStar, which is a part of the USA TODAY Network.
The family did not specify what damages they are seeking from the cruise line, and instead focused on their desire to see Royal Caribbean and others make safety and signage changes to prevent future tragedies.
Through tears, Kim Wiegand talked about the pain her family has endured since the fall, and the difficulty of gathering to announce a lawsuit just two days before what would have been Chloe’s second birthday.
“We should be celebrating with presents and a birthday cake, but instead we are talking about her death,” she said before sharing that she now visits with her daughter’s urn each night instead of rocking her to sleep.
“Royal Caribbean played a major role in the death of our child,” Kim Wiegand said. “The only people who can really understand this pain are other parents who ... have lost a child.
“It is 10 times worse than you could ever imagine.”
Royal Caribbean officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit.
In a recent interview with CBS news, Salvatore "Sam" Anello, 51, has insisted he did not know a window was open when 18-month-old Chloe Wiegand fell to her death at a port in Puerto Rico on July 8.
In October prosecutors in Puerto Rico charged Anello with negligent homicide.
Kim Wiegand said Wednesday that the family does not and never has supported the pursuit of criminal charges against Anello.
Anello spoke briefly at Wednesday's announcement, and Winkleman told reporters that he would not be answering questions related to the incident or the charges filed against him.
“I sit here broken. We all sit here broken,” Anello said. “But our family is strong and we will stay strong together.”
Police in Puerto Rico initially said Anello told officers he lost his grip while holding the girl outside the window on the 11th deck, the Associated Press reported.
In an Oct. 28 news release, Puerto Rico Attorney General Dennise N. Longo Quiñones and other officials said Anello "negligently exposed the child to the abyss through a window on the 11th floor of the cruise ship."
If convicted, the charge carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison. Anello is scheduled to appear in court in Puerto Rico on Dec. 17.
Surveillance video of the incident appears to support the grandfather's assertion that he believed the window was closed, Anello's criminal defense attorney, José G. Pérez Ortiz, told IndyStar.
"My client thought that the window was closed," Ortiz said. "Nothing in the video is inconsistent."
In an emailed statement, Prosecutor Quiñones said the Department of Justice is confident "that all of the evidence will prove Salvatore Anello's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."
Chloe's parents live in Granger, Indiana. Her father, Alan Wiegand, is an officer with the South Bend Police Department.
The Wiegands have supported Anello since their daughter's death and blame the cruise line for failing to protect its passengers.
Another Hoosier died on a cruise ship recently. Brian Rice, a Brownsburg father of two, died Nov. 15 after he fell four stories from a balcony to a lower deck as the Carnival Horizon cruise ship was returning to Miami, authorities said.
Contact IndyStar reporter Vic Ryckaert at 317-444-2701 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @VicRyc.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Cruise ship toddler death: Chloe Wiegand family to sue Royal Caribbean