Chloe Wiegand’s distraught parents have begged Puerto Rican authorities to halt criminal proceedings against the grandfather accused of dropping the toddler from the 11th deck of a cruise ship – insisting they know with ‘all of their hearts’ he is innocent.
Alan and Kimberly Wiegand say evidence from their own private investigation into Chloe’s fatal plunge from the Freedom of the Seas shows it was ‘physically impossible’ for Salvatore Anello to have dangled her overboard.
As the elderly, color-blind grandpa made his third court appearance today in San Juan, the couple called on prosecutors to scrap the negligent homicide charge so they can finally grieve together as a family.
‘We respectfully ask the Puerto Rican prosecutors to take a hard look at the new evidence that has come to light,’ Alan and Kimberly said in an emotion-charged statement shared exclusively with DailyMail.com. ‘It shows what we have known all along, that Sam thought it was a wall of glass.
‘We have never wanted charges filed against Sam because we know with all of our hearts that he would never put Chloe in harm’s way.
‘We will stand with Sam as long as it takes – but we cannot grieve as a family until the criminal charges are dropped.’
Salvatore Anello is accused of dropping his granddaughter Chloe Wiegand (pictured together) to her death from an open cruise ship window in San Juan, Puerto Rico on July 7
Parents Alan and Kimberly Wiegand (pictured) begged Puerto Rican prosecutors to stop criminal proceedings in an emotion-charged statement shared exclusively with DailyMail.com
Anello, elderly and color-blind, made his third court appearance today in San Juan, Puerto Rico
The couple’s plea refers to the findings of their legal team’s unsupervised inspection of the Freedom of the Seas as it docked in Barbados on January 10.
After learning the kids splash pool area where 18-month-old Chloe fell was about to be refurbished the Wiegand’s investigators boarded the $800million ship to take documentary photos and measurements.
They were surprised to find 13 different cameras overlooking the area, according to papers filed this week in the parallel civil lawsuit the parents have filed against Royal Caribbean for negligence.
Alan and Kimberly accuse the cruise operator of creating a ‘false narrative’ by only disclosing footage from the two most incriminating angles and wrongly stating that Anello leaned his head through the window.
Their own data suggests this was ‘physically impossible’ due to a gap between a handrail and the window which would have required the grandfather to be seven inches off the ground to do so.
Anello, who was supervising Chloe alone when she fell 150ft to her death last July, would also have needed extraordinarily long arms to have dangled the little girl over the edge of the 154,000-ton vessel, their report argues.
The silver-haired IT worker from Valparaiso, Indiana did not respond when local reporters peppered him questions on the way into court today, one asking: ‘You knew the window was open, didn’t you?’
Wearing a black suit, checked shirt and dark tie, he similarly said nothing throughout the 10-minute Spanish-language hearing but listened carefully through an interpreter as defense lawyer Jose Guillermo Perez Ortiz asked for another month to prepare his case.
Brenda Quijano, a spokeswoman for Puerto Rico’s Department of Justice, refused to discuss how many different camera angles of the accident would feature in the prosecution case
The silver-haired IT worker from Valparaiso, Indiana did not respond when local reporters peppered him questions on the way into court Monday, one asking: ‘You knew the window was open, didn’t you?’
The Wiegands’ attorneys have further asked a US District Court in Miami to compel Royal Caribbean to release footage from 11 more cameras which they say were never disclosed to them before they boarded the ship
Perez Ortiz told the court he plans to call two key witnesses, a specialist in recreating the scenes of accidents and a medical expert.
Judge Gisela Alfonso Fernandez scheduled the next hearing for February 24 and told Anello it was ‘imperative’ that he attend the hearing in person, when it’s likely his trial date will be set.
Afterwards Brenda Quijano, a spokeswoman for Puerto Rico’s Department of Justice, refused to discuss how many different camera angles of the accident would feature in the prosecution case.
‘We will stand with Sam as long as it takes – but we cannot grieve as a family until the criminal charges are dropped,’ the grieving parents said
She added: ‘We are fully committed to this case. What we want is justice for Chloe’.
When DailyMail.com asked Perez Ortiz if he was satisfied he had seen every possible angle of Chloe’s fall, he smiled wryly and said: ‘We are working on that.’
The misdemeanor charge could see Anello locked up for three years but sources close to the case say prison time would probably be considered excessive.
Prosecutors have not offered Anello a formal plea deal, contrary to reports. But they nonetheless consider probation the appropriate punishment and would likely agree to him serving his term in Indiana rather than in Puerto Rico.
They do not anticipate a guilty plea from Anello who insists he is not criminally responsible for Choe’s death because he had no warning that, when he lifted her up to bang on the glass as she liked to do at her brother’s ice hockey games, it would be missing.
He also claims to have had difficulty telling the difference between the tinted, waist-height windows on the Freedom the Seas’ 11th deck and thin air because he is colorblind.
Chloe’s family have always accepted his explanation and instead blame Royal Caribbean, insisting the cruise giant breached industry-wide safety laws by not having signs or decals warning the panels could be slid open.
Today’s hearing comes after DailyMail.com revealed for the first time a harrowing witness account from the on-board doctor who found Chloe’s lifeless body on San Juan’s Pan-American Pier.
In a statement given to Puerto Rican police that will likely feature in Anello’s trial, Dr Marcel Alexander Armand Van Drunick also recalled how he quizzed the grandfather minutes after the tragedy.
Anello was hysterical and unable to walk unaided but he gave Van Drunick the same explanation he has given investigators ever since: ‘I thought the window was closed.’
‘About halfway down the pier we saw the body of a baby lying on the pier. It was a female, 18 month baby lying face down with multiple traumatic injuries. There was no life,’ Van Drunick said.
‘Her one pink shoe and the white hat was lying on the pier not far from the deceased. I immediately shouted for a sheet to cover the body.’
The Wiegands unveiled the findings of their own investigation, however, including a harrowing on-board reconstruction involving a doll and a man of near-identical height and stature to Anello. Pictured: Reenactment of the tragic day
Anello would have had to be seven inches off the floor to even touch the window, they allege in the court filing. Furthermore, Anello would have needed extraordinarily long arms to have dangled the little girl over the edge of the 154,000-ton vessel
Van Drunick heard screams coming from the 11th deck of the ship and was confronted by a scene of ‘chaos.’
‘The grandfather was being escorted (assisted on both sides, from other people) crying and sobbing,’ his statement says.
‘The grandfather collapsed on his hands and knees in the corner of the elevator. He was distraught sobbing, crying, saying: ‘I dropped my baby, I dropped my baby.’
‘I bent down and asked him what happened. While he was crying he just said: ‘I thought the window was closed’.’
Angelic Chloe and her granddad were about to embark on a seven-night Caribbean cruise with her parents, older brother, fraternal grandparents and Anello’s wife Patricia, when the tragedy unfolded last July 7.
The vacation was supposed to take in the sun-drenched sights of San Juan, St Maarten, St Kitts, Antigua, St Lucia and Barbados.
But it ended in horror before the Freedom of the Seas had even disembarked, with distraught Anello accused in news headlines of recklessly dangling Chloe overboard then dropping her.
He was allowed to fly back to the US but returned to San Juan after a judge issued an arrest warrant stating there was probable cause to charge him with negligent homicide.
‘All I know is I was trying to reach the glass and I know that we leaned over to try to have her reach the glass, at that point she slipped,’ Anello later told CBS.
‘Chloe being gone is the worst thing ever so I’m like, whatever, you know. There’s nothing worse that they could do to me than what’s already happened.’
Royal Caribbean maintains in court filings that Anello ‘unquestionably’ knew the window was open and only had to rely on his basic senses to realize he was putting Chloe in danger.
‘The death of Chloe Wiegand is undeniably a heartbreaking tragedy that has prompted a criminal prosecution of Chloe’s step-grandfather and a civil lawsuit brought by the Wiegand family attorneys.’ the cruise operator said in a statement.
‘Our position in the matter is outlined in our Motion to Dismiss, which we were legally mandated to do in response to the civil complaint.
‘The motion was filed in Federal Court in South Florida and is available to the public.’