Grandfather charged in granddaughter's cruise ship death accepts plea deal

The toddler fell to her death on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship in July.

February 26, 2020, 10:14 AM

A grandfather charged with negligent homicide after his 18-month-old granddaughter fell to her death from an 11th-floor window of a cruise ship docked in Puerto Rico last year is accepting a plea deal.

Salvatore Anello changed his plea to guilty Tuesday "to try to help end part of this nightmare for my family," he said in a statement.

"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," Anello continued.

It was back in July 2019 when Anello lifted his granddaughter Chloe Wiegand, from Indiana, onto a wood railing in front of a wall of glass windows on the Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas, according to Anello's family attorney Michael Winkleman. Anello thought Chloe would bang on the glass, however the window was open and she was "gone," Winkleman had previously said.

Anello opened up about the tragic day in his statement, saying he was "focused on Chloe the whole time" and thought because of his previous experiences in elevated public places, there would be a glass protective barrier.

"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," Anello said, referring to their time at hockey rinks. "I was just so horribly wrong about our surroundings."

Chloe Wiegand, 18 months, from South Bend, Ind., is pictured in an undated family photo.
Family Photo via Atty Michael Winkleman

He said the incident "was a nightmare of the likes I could never have imagined before."

The plea deal comes a week after his defense attorney, Jose Perez, told ABC News that Anello didn't want to change his plea because "he is firm that he is innocent."

Winkleman said Anello's decision to take change his plea "was an incredibly difficult one ... 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."

The family wants to raise awareness of the need for all common carriers to adhere to window fall prevention laws to prevent similar falls.

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

He ended his statement with a message for Chloe: "I love you and miss you, Chloe, beyond measure."

A hearing date for Anello has not yet been set.

ABC News' Scott Withers contributed to this report.