NBC News- The grandfather of an 18-month-old girl who fell to her death from the open window of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship last year pleaded guilty Thursday to negligent homicide.
The ship had been docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in July 2019, when the toddler, Chloe Wiegand, fell through an 11-story window while she was in the care of her grandfather, Salvatore Anello. Anello, also known as Sam, was charged in October 2019 by Puerto Rican authorities and initially pleaded not guilty. In February, he said that he was going to plead guilty so his family could begin to move on from the tragedy. The Puerto Rico Department of Justice said in a statement Thursday that a judge accepted Anello's plea. He will be sentenced Dec. 10.
Michael Winkleman, an attorney for the Wiegand family, said Thursday that the plea deal means that Anello, who lives in South Bend, Indiana, avoids jail time and can serve probation in his home state.
He said the decision to change the plea was "incredibly difficult" for Anello 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," the lawyer said in a statement.
Chloe was with her mother in a children's water park area on the pool's 11th deck. Her mother had to tend to another matter and asked Anello to watch her, according to a lawsuit the family filed in December 2019 against Royal Caribbean Cruises.
The family alleges that the cruise ship company is at fault for Chloe's death, a claim the company has strongly denied. Royal Caribbean did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday.
In a July 2019 interview on "TODAY," Chloe's mother, Kimberly Wiegand, said the cruise line was to blame "for not having a safer situation" on the 11th-floor pool deck.
"There are a million things that could've been done to make that safer," she said. "I know my mom was asking people, 'Why on earth is there a window open on the 11th floor without a screen or anything?'"
The lawsuit said that Anello was "closely supervising" his granddaughter "when Chloe walked over to a nearby wall of glass." Anello followed and put the girl up to the window so she could bang on the glass but she slipped from his hands and fell through the open window.
The lawsuit against the cruise company is ongoing, Winkleman said Thursday, adding that discovery and evidence confirm "this was a tragic, preventable accident" and there were no grounds to bring charges against the grandfather.
Anello has repeatedly said that he did not know the window was open. In an interview last year with CBS, he said that was colorblind and suggested that may have been why he couldn't distinguish between the tinted closed windows and the open window.
But the company has countered that the grandfather "unquestionably" knew the window was open.
In a January court filing responding to the lawsuit, the cruise line included a series of still images that it said were taken from security video and show that Anello knew the window was open before holding his granddaughter up to it.
"When he arrives at the open window, and while Chloe is on the floor, Mr. Anello leans his upper-torso over the wooden railing and out of the window frame for approximately eight seconds," the company said in the court filing. "Because Mr. Anello had himself leaned out the window, he was well aware that the window is open."
Winkleman said the pictures were "misleading."