Grandfather to plead guilty in toddler’s cruise ship death

Puerto Rico

An Indiana man charged in his young granddaughter’s fatal fall from a cruise ship’s open window in Puerto Rico has agreed to plead guilty over her July 2019 death, explaining that he was doing so “to try to help end part of this nightmare for my family”.

Key points:

  • The family’s lawyer said the plea agreement meant Sam Anello would not serve time behind bars
  • Mr Anello said in a statement he was not dangling his granddaughter out of the window
  • Royal Caribbean Cruises claims that Mr Anello had leaned out of the window for eight seconds before lifting up the girl

Salvatore “Sam” Anello, who was holding Chloe Wiegand when she slipped from his grasp and fell about 45 metres to her death from an open 11th-floor window on Royal Caribbean Cruises ship, filed change of plea documents in a Puerto Rico court.

He has agreed to plead guilty to a negligent homicide charge in the 18-month-old’s death, the family’s lawyer Michael Winkleman said.

Under the plea agreement, Mr Anello would not serve time behind bars and would serve his probation in Indiana, Mr Winkleman said.

“I took a plea deal today to try to help end part of this nightmare for my family, if possible,” Mr Anello said in his statement.

“The support they continue to give me has been beyond overwhelming and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for them.”

Mr Anello was charged last year and initially pleaded not guilty.

He has insisted that he did not know the window was open when he lifted Chloe up to it, saying he did so to allow her to bang on the glass as she did at her brother’s hockey games.


Chloe Wiegand’s parents sued Royal Caribbean, accusing the operator of negligence in her death by allowing the 11th-floor window to be open. (AP: Mike Derer)

In November, he said he was trying to stand Chloe on the window’s railing when she fell out of the window.

He also said he is colour blind and that may be why he did not realise the tinted window was open.

“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,” Mr Anello said in a statement.

“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.”

Chloe’s parents sued Royal Caribbean in December, accusing the operator of negligence in her death by allowing the 11th-floor window in the ship’s children’s play area to be open.

Mr Winkleman said Anello’s proposed guilty plea in Chloe’s death would have “little or no effect at all on the civil lawsuit”, noting that Mr Anello is not a party to that case.

Royal Caribbean Cruises has said in court filings that surveillance video shows that Mr Anello leaned out an 11th-floor window in a children’s play area on the ship for about eight seconds before he lifted his granddaughter to the window.

Investigators say the girl slipped from Mr Anello’s hands.

Chloe’s family though responded to the cruise line’s allegations that it would have been “physically impossible” for Mr Anello to lean out of that window.

Mr Winkleman said Mr Anello’s decision to agree to plead guilty “is in the best interests of the family so that they can close this horrible chapter and turn their focus to mourning Chloe”.

Mr Winkleman said the family would also be focusing on “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”.

A message seeking comment on Mr Anello’s plea agreement was left with a spokeswoman for Royal Caribbean Cruises.