A grandfather’s guilty plea adds another heartbreaking page to a horrific chapter in a family’s life.
On Thursday, the grandfather of a toddler who fell to her death on a cruise ship pleaded guilty to negligent homicide. A San Juan judge accepted Sam Anello’s plea. He is expected to be sentenced in December.
Sam was on a Royal Caribbean cruise with his family when the tragic accident occurred. He took his 18-month-old granddaughter, Chloe Wiegand, to a children’s play area on the cruise ship. He was holding her against the railing next to a bank of windows he believed to be closed.
Inexplicably, the windows were open. Chloe slipped from his grasp and fell more than 10 stories onto a concrete dock below. Chloe’s parents stand behind Sam, believing this to be an accident. They’re suing Royal Caribbean in a civil suit for Chloe’s preventable death.
Sam Anello is hoping to put this horrific chapter of his life behind him. The 51-year-old pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in the accidental death of his granddaughter, Chloe Wiegand. Sam and the family were on a Puerto Rican Royal Caribbean Cruise on July 8, 2019, when the incident occurred.
Sam brought Chloe into the children’s play area of the ship while it was docked in Puerto Rico. He picked Chloe up and was holding her against a railing near a window bay. He assumed the windows were all closed. All were, except the one he held Chloe in front of.
Chloe slipped from his grasp and fell out of the window. She fell over 11 stories down to a concrete dock below. Sam has claimed to be traumatized by the incident, especially as some questioned whether he did so intentionally.
“I was focused on Chloe the whole time I was with her,” he said in a February statement.
“As I walked with her I also saw that the ship deck was surrounded by a wall of glass. In my experience, any elevated public place I’ve been with that much glass has always been a protective barrier,” he continued.
“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 continued.
“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. 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.”
The family has maintained that the incident was accidental. Chloe’s parents, Alan and Kimberly Wiegand, have stood behind Sam every step of the way. They believe that Royal Caribbean is responsible for allowing an unsafe environment as such to exist on the ship, Freedom of the Sea.
Alan and Kimberly have filed a civil suit against Royal Caribbean.
“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,” family attorney Michael Winkleman said in a statement to People magazine.
In the process of that suit, they’ve disputed evidence Royal Caribbean claims makes it clear the cruise company is not at fault.
The family has argued that the cruise line is only using footage from select cameras in that area that supports its claims. It has produced stills from footage from two of the 13 cameras that captured the incident.
Royal Caribbean’s legal team says of Sam, “His actions, which no reasonable person could have foreseen, were reckless and irresponsible and the sole reason why Chloe is no longer with her parents.”
The attorney also spoke to Sam’s plea.
“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 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,” he said.
Sam will be sentenced on December 10.
In agreeing to this plea with prosecutors, Sam will serve any probation time given at his South Bend, Indiana, home. Though it will end this painful ordeal for the family, they will continue to fight until cruise ships are safer for guests of all ages. The family hopes no one will ever have to go through what’s happened to them.