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Grandfather of toddler who died on cruise ship explains why he's pleading guilty

Sam Anello described living with the "constant nightmare" of his 1-year-old granddaughter's death on a cruise ship and why he is pleading guilty to negligent homicide.
/ Source: TODAY

The grandfather of a 1-year-old girl who fell to her death from an open window on a cruise ship last year has spoken out about the "constant nightmare" he is experiencing, after announcing plans to plead guilty to a charge of negligent homicide in her death.

Salvatore "Sam" Anello issued a statement Tuesday describing his anguish after his 18-month-old granddaughter, Chloe Wiegand, fell through an open window on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in July.

"I was placed in charge of keeping my beautiful granddaughter safe and I failed,'' he said. "It will always be a constant nightmare every day and every night for the rest of my life.

"I took a plea deal today to try to help end part of this nightmare for my family, if possible."

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Anello filed paperwork to change his plea in return for an agreement that included no jail time, according to Michael Winkleman, the attorney for the Wiegand family. Anello, who lives in South Bend, Indiana, will be able to serve his probation in Indiana, Winkleman told NBC News.

Anello also expressed his hope that precautions will be taken to prevent another tragedy. Wiegand fell out of an 11th-story window on July 7 after Anello placed her near an open window he thought was closed.

"Going forward, justice for Chloe must include attention being given to provide the safety measures so very needed on Freedom of the Sea,'' he said in his statement. "We need to make sure nothing like this will ever happen to another precious baby, or anyone else for that matter, ever again."

He also thanked the many strangers who have sent words of comfort from around the world and shared tragic stories of their own about losing a child in an accident.

Anello also recounted the sequence of events on that fatal day.

"As I walked with her I also saw that the ship deck was surrounded by a wall of glass,'' he said. "In my experience, any elevated public place I've been with that much glass has always been a protective barrier.

"... 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. 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. I was just so horribly wrong about our surroundings."

He remains grateful for the support of Chloe's parents, saying it "has been beyond overwhelming." They said on TODAY in July that they do not blame him for what happened.

"He was extremely hysterical,'' Kimberly Wiegand said. "The thing that he has repeatedly told us is, 'I believed that there was glass.' He will cry over and over and over. At no point ever, ever has Sam ever put our kids in danger.

"(He's) very, very distraught. You can barely look at him without him crying. She was his best friend."