By HALEY YAMADA, ABC News
(SAN JUAN) — Salvatore “Sam” Anello, who was accused in the fatal fall of his young granddaughter from an 11-story cruise ship window in July 2019, pleaded guilty Thursday to negligent homicide.
“I was placed in charge of keeping my beautiful granddaughter safe and I failed. It will always be a constant nightmare every day and every night for the rest of my life,” said Anello, of Valparaiso, Indiana, in a February statement after he decided to take a plea deal. “I took a plea deal today to try to help end part of this nightmare for my family, if possible. The support they continue to give me has been beyond overwhelming and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for them.”
While docked in Puerto Rico in 2019, Anello hoisted 18-month-old Chloe Wiegand to the window of a Royal Caribbean Cruise ship. Chloe slipped from his grasp and fell about 150 feet to her death.
Puerto Rico prosecutor Laura Hernandez said Anello would be sentenced Dec. 10. Anello will not receive jail time as a result of the plea deal.
“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,” said the family’s attorney, Michael Winkleman.
Anello has repeatedly said that he did not know the window was open when he lifted Chloe.
“I wasn’t drinking and I wasn’t dangling her out of a window,” he said in a statement. He also said that he is colorblind and might not have realized 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. It was a nightmare of the likes I could never have imagined before,” wrote Anello.
Chloe’s parents sued Royal Caribbean last year and accused the company of negligence. In response, Royal Caribbean said that surveillance video shows Anello leaning out the window for about eight seconds before lifting the girl by and out of the open window for 34 seconds before he lost his grip. The family said it would have been physically impossible for Anello to lean out like that.
In response to Anello’s guilty plea, Royal Caribbean asked to refer to prosecutors for comment: “Our thoughts are with the family during this difficult time.”
Meanwhile, the civil lawsuit against Royal Caribbean continues, according to Winkleman.
“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.”
“We need to make sure nothing like this will ever happen to another precious baby, or anyone else for that matter, ever again,” shared Anello. “I love you and miss you, Chloe, beyond measure.”
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