The grandfather of a toddler who died after falling from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship in Puerto Rico this summer has been charged with manslaughter.
Authorities announced Monday they were proceeding with negligent manslaughter charges against Salvatore Anello, the grandfather of 18-month-old Chloe Wiegand, who died after plunging from a cruise ship window on July 17, a lawyer for the family told Oxygen.com.
Anello had allegedly set the toddler near a window — which he believed to have been closed — on the cruise ship’s 11th story when the young girl plummeted to her death, CBS News reported.
The girl’s family, however, insisted the incident was an accident — and that Royal Caribbean should be held accountable. In the aftermath of the girl’s death, her parents, Alan and Kimberly Wiegand, were puzzled as to why the window had been left open in a children’s play area. Wiegand said Royal Caribbean created "a tremendous safety hazard that cost our child her life," NBC News reported.
"These criminal charges are pouring salt on the open wounds of this grieving family,” maritime injury attorney Michael Winkleman said in a statement sent to Oxygen.com.
“Clearly this was a tragic accident and the family’s singular goal remains for something like this to never happen again,” he added. “Had the cruise lines simply followed proper safety guidelines for windows, this accident likely would never have happened."
Winkleman said the family plans to file a civil suit against Royal Caribbean in the near future. The cruise line had claimed the window was open for ventilation, according to NBC.
The child’s mother explained how Chloe’s grandfather was accustomed to holding the toddler up to the glass at her brother’s hockey games, NBC’s Today also reported in July. Kimberley Wiegand said her daughter loved to bang on the glass — and insisted that Anello would never put her children in harm’s way. The grieving parents described the loss of their child as “unfathomable.”
“He was extremely hysterical,” Wiegand said in July. “The thing that he has repeatedly told us is, ‘I believed that there was glass.’ He will cry over and over and over.”
The mother explained that Anello was her daughter’s “best friend.”
“You can barely look at him without him crying,” she added.
Chloe’s father is a police officer in South Bend. The family has also since received support from the Fraternal Order of Police in South Bend, which blasted Royal Caribbean and also criticized Puerto Rican prosecutors for moving forward with manslaughter charges against Anello.
"The charges filed in Puerto Rico today are appalling and do nothing but re-victimize a family who experienced a horrific loss,” said Harvey Mills, South Bend FOP President, in another statement sent to Oxygen.com.
“Based on the facts, it sounds like the negligence in this tragedy came from the cruise ship, not the family,” Mills added. “The South Bend FOP stands in support of Officer Alan Wiegand and his family and urges Puerto Rican authorities to drop these unnecessary charges.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice in Puerto Rico didn’t immediately respond to Oxygen.com’s request for comment.
“This was a tragic incident, and out of respect for the family’s privacy, we refer you to authorities for further comment,” Royal Caribbean said in a statement, the Washington Post reported.
Anello had been held in Puerto Rico since July, according to a spokesperson for the family's attorney. Anello was arraigned and has since been released after posting an $80,000 bond. He was expected to return back to the mainland U.S. on Tuesday. His next court appearance hasn’t yet been set, according to a representative for the family’s lawyer.
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