Grandfather pleads guilty in Puerto Rico cruise ship death

The grandfather of an 18-month-old girl who plunged to her death after falling from a window of a cruise ship in Puerto Rico last year has pleaded guilty to negligent homicide.  

Salvatore ‘Sam’ Anello of Valparaiso, Indiana, admitted to the charges on Thursday after initially pleading not guilty last October. 

The 51-year-old was charged with the death of granddaughter Chloe Wiegand who died after falling 150 feet from a docked Royal Caribbean cruise ship in July 2019.

Anello had been holding the little girl up to an open window on the 11th deck of the Freedom of the Seas ship, when she slipped from his grasp and fell to her death.

Salvatore Anello (pictured in court in February) pleaded guilty to negligent homicide on Thursday

Chloe Wiegand fell to her death from the 11th deck of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship after her grandfather held her up to an open window in July 2019

Chloe Wiegand

Chloe Wiegand fell to her death from the 11th deck of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship after her grandfather held her up to an open window in July 2019

Chloe tumbled overboard and died instantly as she landed 150ft below on the Pan American Pier 2

Chloe tumbled overboard and died instantly as she landed 150ft below on the Pan American Pier 2

He announced his decision to change his plea earlier this year in hopes of moving on from the tragedy after reaching an agreement with prosecutors that involved no jail time.

‘I took a plea deal today to try to help end part of this nightmare for my family, if possible,’ he said in a statement in February.  

Puerto Rico prosecutor Laura Hernández on Thursday said Anello would be sentenced on December 10.  ‘We have found justice for Chloe,’ she said.

Anello’s attorney, Michael Winkleman, did not immediately return a message for comment. 

In a statement to DailyMail.com in February, Winkleman said Anello and the family made the ‘incredibly difficult’ decision to change his plea because the ‘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,’ he said. 

The window on the cruise ship had been left open, and Chloe tumbled out and fell to her death

The window on the cruise ship had been left open, and Chloe tumbled out and fell to her death

The grandfather has repeatedly said he did not know the window (circled) was open

Anello said he had lifted Chloe up to it so she could knock on the glass as she had done at her brother's hockey games (pictured)

The grandfather has repeatedly said he did not know the window (circled) was open

Negligent homicide can be punished with a three-year prison sentence under the Puerto Rican criminal code however prosecutors will likely recommend a period of probation that can be completed in his native Indiana.   

Anello has repeatedly said he did not know the window in the children’s play area was open and that he lifted Chloe up to it so she could knock on the glass like she had done at her brother’s hockey games.

‘I wasn’t drinking and I wasn’t dangling her out of a window,’ he said in a previous statement. 

He also said he is colorblind and might not have realized the tinted window was open.

Sources close to Chloe’s parents Alan and Kimberly Wiegand say the guilty plea will not change their belief that Royal Caribbean is ultimately responsible for her death. 

The girl’s parents sued Royal Caribbean last year and accused the company of negligence. 

Anello, an IT worker, had consistently protested his innocence over 18-month-old Chloe’s death before accepting a plea deal earlier this year

Anello, an IT worker, had consistently protested his innocence over 18-month-old Chloe’s death before accepting a plea deal earlier this year

Sources close to Chloe's parents Alan and Kimberly Wiegand (pictured in an interview last year) say the guilty plea will not change their belief that Royal Caribbean is ultimately responsible for her death

Sources close to Chloe’s parents Alan and Kimberly Wiegand (pictured in an interview last year) say the guilty plea will not change their belief that Royal Caribbean is ultimately responsible for her death

Royal Caribbean has tried unsuccessfully to have the case thrown out, presenting harrowing video footage of Chloe’s last moments to argue that Anello poked his head through the window and ‘unquestionably’ knew it was open.

The company denies breaching industry safety standards, insisting he would only have had to rely on his ‘basic senses’ to realize he was endangering his beloved granddaughter.

The family said it would have been physically impossible for Anello to lean out like that.

Royal Caribbean did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Chloe and her granddad were about to embark on a seven-night Caribbean cruise with her parents, older brother, fraternal grandparents and Anello’s wife Patricia, when the tragedy unfolded. 

Their vacation was supposed to take in the sun-drenched sights of San Juan, St Maarten, St Kitts, Antigua, St Lucia and Barbados but it ended in horror before the $800m vessel had even set sail. 

Haunting on-board camera footage of the incident shows Anello alone on deck with Chloe, who leads her grandfather away from the H20 zone splash pool towards the glass sides of the ship.

He lifts the toddler up and sits her down on a wooden handrail but suddenly she tumbles forwards and disappears from view.

‘All I know is I was trying to reach the glass and I know that we leaned over to try to have her reach the glass, at that point she slipped,’ Anello said in an earlier interview with CBS. 

‘Chloe being gone is the worst thing ever so I’m like, whatever, you know. There’s nothing worse that they could do to me than what’s already happened.’

Add Comment