The family of an Indiana toddler who fell from her grandfather’s arms to her death off a cruise ship is challenging what it calls Royal Caribbean Cruises’ “false narrative” of how it happened.
Eighteen-month-old Chloe Wiegand fell from the open window of a cruise ship docked in Puerto Rico in July.
Her grandfather, Salvatore Anello, was playing with her near a window on the 11th floor when she fell, and he has been charged with negligent homicide. Prosecutors allege he “negligently exposed [his granddaughter] through one of the windows,”according to the Puerto Rican Department of Justice. He was released on bond and is back home in Indiana.
As part of a wrongful death suit the Wiegand family filed against Royal Caribbean in December, their attorney released reenactment photos this week, saying they are evidence the grandfather couldn’t physically lean out of the window from which the toddler fell, as the company has alleged.
The family’s latest legal claim is in response to the Royal Caribbean’s motion to dismiss the December lawsuit.
The photos were taken this month on the Freedom of the Seas cruise ship from which Chloe fell. In a legal filing, the family accuses Royal Caribbean of creating “a false narrative” of the incident and providing footage of only two of the 13 available cameras in the area.
“We went to re-enact what happened on the same ship, same window where Mr. Anello stood with Chloe. What we found completely backs up his story. Pictures of the reconstruction are included in our filing,” family attorney Michael Winkleman said.
Cruise ship carefully selected CCTV video, family says
Earlier this month, Royal Caribbean’s filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming Anello knew the window was open and held his granddaughter out the window before she fell to her death.
The cruise line’s motion alleges surveillance video shows Anello walking up to a window and appearing to lean his upper body out of the window for several seconds.
Anello is seen in the video picking up Chloe and holding her out of the window for 30 to 40 second before losing his grip and dropping her, the motion alleges.
Royal Caribbean submitted the surveillance video and still images into evidence in its motion to dismiss.
In the latest filing, the Wiegand family attorney identified “at least” 13 cameras in the area of the incident after inspecting the vessel in January, about six months after the toddler’s death in July.
“Royal Caribbean has demonstrably lied to this court and, in so doing, Royal Caribbean has created a false narrative to accompany Royal Caribbean’s carefully selected CCTV video upon which Royal Caribbean bases its motion to dismiss,” the filing claims.
The family filed a motion last week to compel Royal Caribbean to produce footage from all of the cameras at the time of the incident.
In a statement to CNN on Thursday, Royal Caribbean said Chloe’s death “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.”
Last year, Anello told CBS News that he initially blamed himself for Chloe’s death. Now, he blames the cruise line.
“I just want them to fix the boat. Just fix it. Just fix the boat.”
Reenactment photos angle differs from cruise ship’s surveillance
The reenactment photos show a man with similar measurements as Anello holding a doll by a window on the cruise ship from several additional angles that differ from the surveillance released by the cruise line.
One reenactment photo is taken two steps to the right of the CCTV camera that the family says shows a “deceptive angle.” That photo shows the man couldn’t lean “out of the window frame” because of the 18-inch distance between the railing and the window frame, the Wiegand family alleges.
The man “had to lift his feet at least seven inches off the ground,” to touch the window with the top of his head, the legal filing says.
“In fact, it would have been physically impossible for Mr. Anello to have had his head out of the window frame with his feet on the deck,” court papers say.
Anello would have “required much longer arms than he had” to hold Chloe out the window, Wiegand’s family attorney alleges.
The family’s lawsuit claims Anello lifted Chloe up onto the railing and held her as she leaned forward to bang on the glass. There was no glass pane and she slipped from Anello’s arms, falling 150 feet below to the pier, resulting in her death, the suit says.
Anello was not aware that some of the glass panes could be opened, the suit said.