Grandfather of toddler who died in cruise ship fall is pleading guilty to end 'nightmare'

An attorney for Salvatore Anello, Chloe Wiegand's grandfather, told NBC News that paperwork was filed to change his plea in a deal to avoid jail time.
/ Source: NBC News

The grandfather of the 18-month-old girl who fell to her death from an open window on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship in San Juan, Puerto Rico, said he plans to plead guilty so his family can begin to move on.

"I took a plea deal today to try to help end part of this nightmare for my family, if possible," Salvatore Anello said in a statement on Tuesday, after a family attorney announced the grandfather's intention to change his plea.

Anello, also known as Sam, initially pleaded not guilty to a negligent homicide charge from Puerto Rican authoritiesin October in the death of Chloe Wiegand in July.

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

A photo of Chloe Wiegand, courtesy of her family.

Winkleman said the deal "is in the best interests of the family so that they can close this horrible chapter and turn their focus to mourning Chloe."

Anello thanked his family for sticking by his side.

"The support they continue to give me has been beyond overwhelming and I can't tell you how grateful I am for them," he said, adding that justice for Chloe should include bringing attention to the need for more safety measures on Freedom of the Seas, the cruise ship on which the toddler fell.

"We need to make sure nothing like this will ever happen to another precious baby, or anyone else for that matter, ever again," Anello said.

A hearing date for the change of plea has yet to be determined.

The Wiegand family filed a federal civil action in December against Royal Caribbean Cruises, alleging that the company was at fault for the accident. A judge approved the suit this month after Royal Caribbean sought to block it.

Chloe was with her mother in a children's water park area on the pool's 11th deck. When her mother had to go to attend to another matter, Anello came to supervise her, according to the family's lawsuit.

"Mr. Anello was closely supervising Chloe as she played," the suit says. When "Chloe walked over to a nearby wall of glass on the same deck," her grandfather followed her, it says.

The family has claimed that Anello put Chloe up to the window to bang on the glass when she slipped from his hands through the window, falling to her death from the ship's 11th story.

Anello has insisted that he believed that the window was enclosed by glass although it turned out to be open. He reiterated this in his statement Tuesday.

"In my experience, any elevated public place I've been with that much glass has always been a protective barrier," he said in his statement. "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."

He added: "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."

Anello said he feels like he failed to keep Chloe safe and it's a "constant nightmare" that will haunt him for the rest of his life.

In November, he told CBS there were no signs indicating that the windows were open. He also said he is colorblind, which he said may have been why he couldn't distinguish between the tinted closed windows and the open window.

Chloe's parents, Kim and Alan Wiegand, said on TODAY after her death last summer that they hoped to bring awareness and ensure that such an accident doesn't happen to another family.

"We obviously blame them for not having a safer situation on the 11th floor of that cruise ship," Kim Wiegand said. "There are a million things that could've been done to make that safer."

Royal Caribbean didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.