The lawyer for the family mourning the July death of a toddler who fell from a cruise ship says video of the incident backs up their assertion that it was a tragic accident and not a crime.
Eighteen-month-old Chloe Wiegand fell more than 10 stories from a window in a children’s play area on a Royal Caribbean cruise. Her grandfather, Salvatore Anello, who was holding her up on a railing adjacent to the large open window before she fell, has since been charged with negligent homicide.
Anello has contended he thought the window was closed, and Chloe’s parents have said they don’t blame him. Prosecutors allege Anello “negligently exposed the child to the abyss through a window on the 11th floor,” according to a statement from the Puerto Rico Department of Justice obtained by PEOPLE.
Wiegand family attorney Michael Winkleman, who is representing them in a planned wrongful death lawsuit against Royal Caribbean, said closed-circuit video of the tragedy “is consistent with [Anello’s] version of events since day one.”
The window from which Chloe fell was part of a large wall of sliding windows — and Winkleman says all windows were closed except for the one in question. Winkleman says Chloe liked to bang on glass panels at her older brother’s hockey games, and when she went to bang on what she thought was a closed window, she fell.
Winkleman showed PEOPLE two grainy video clips of the tragedy. In one, Anello is seen propping Chloe up on the railing on her feet, then on her bottom, before she disappears from view. In another, Anello is seen dropping to the floor after Chloe falls out the window.
Winkleman says there was a significant enough distance between the railing and the window so that Anello, who is seen leaning over the railing in the video before Chloe fell, wouldn’t necessarily have known it was open.
In a statement to PEOPLE, Puerto Rico Attorney General Dennise N. Longo Quiñones said, “The Department of Justice does not discuss the evidence to be presented at trial prior to the proceedings. We remain confident, however, that all of the evidence will prove Salvatore Anello’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Anello has not entered a plea to the charge against him, but Winkleman says he intends to fight the charge. Anello made a brief court appearance Wednesday, and briefly spoke to NBC about the charge against him, saying, “They can’t do anything worse to me than has already happened.”
After Anello was charged in October, Winkleman told PEOPLE, “It’s like pouring salt in [the family’s] open wounds. They’re in the beginning stages of a lengthy process that is grief. They were trying to put their lives back together, and you throw this into the mix and it puts them back to square one.”
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Winkleman says the family plans to file a lawsuit against Royal Caribbean in the next two weeks.
“The windows were not compliant with window-fall prevention codes, designed to prevent children from falling out of windows,” he says.
Chloe’s parents, Alan and Kimberly Wiegand, spoke out in an interview with the Today show in July, defending Anello.
“He was extremely hysterical. The thing that he has repeatedly told us is, ‘I believed that there was glass,’” Kimberly said. “He will cry over and over and over. At no point ever — ever — has [he] ever put our kids in danger.”
“[Chloe] was his best friend,” Alan added.
Winkleman says the parents have not viewed the video of Chloe’s fall.
“It’s too hard for them. And they don’t want it released because it’s the last 30 seconds of Chloe’s life,” he says.
Anello’s criminal attorney did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Royal Caribbean did not comment on the possible lawsuit by the Wiegand family. In a previous statement to PEOPLE, a spokesperson for Royal Caribbean said the company is “deeply saddened” by the incident, adding, “We’ve made our Care Team available to assist the family with any resources they need. Out of respect for their privacy, we do not plan to comment further on the incident.”