Chloe Wiegand’s distraught mom sobs on camera as she recalls screaming ‘you killed Chloe’ at the toddler’s grandfather after he accidentally dropped her from the 11th deck of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.
In a harrowing video deposition obtained exclusively by DailyMail.com, Kimberly Wiegand reveals how she broke down after learning that Chloe had slipped from Salvatore Anello’s grasp and tumbled to her death through an open window on the Freedom of the Seas.
‘I screamed, I screamed and I know he was talking back. I said, you killed Chloe and he said, I know,’ says Kimberly, 38, sobbing uncontrollably as she describes the aftermath of the July 2019 tragedy.
‘I know there was more talking and I don’t know what it was anymore. I just remember screaming. I know, I know at some point, he was like down on the ground. I know he was talking, and I remember, like, I don’t know if it was like, my sense of time is really messed up.’
Kimberly, her cop husband Alan, and Anello, all gave depositions in November in their long running civil lawsuit against Royal Caribbean, whom the family blame for Chloe’s death because of the allegedly dangerous design of their pool area windows.
In a heartbreaking video deposition obtained by DailyMail.com, Chloe’s mother Kimberly Wiegand reveals how she broke down after learning of her daughter’s death
Chloe Wiegand is pictured here with her mother Kimberly Schultz Wiegand. ‘I screamed, I screamed and I know he was talking back. I said, you killed Chloe and he said, I know,’ says Kimberly, 38, sobbing uncontrollably
The couple say they concluded the cruise operator was culpable without discussing the accident with Anello or watching any video clips of the moment Chloe fell 150ft on to a concrete dock in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
‘He’s tried to say but it’s one of those things you don’t really want to hear about, specifics about the death of your child,’ Alan, 42, tells the firm’s lawyer, Marshall Louis.
Asked the same question, Kimberly, 38, reveals it was three months before she could bring herself to speak with Anello, who is her stepfather, having married her mother Patricia.
‘I asked him, point-blank, did you know that those windows were open,’ says the devastated mom, who was below deck with her husband when Chloe fell.
‘He said, no. He told me if he wanted me to, he would explain in detail what happened. I told him I did not think I could listen to it. And that’s been the conversation that I had with him.’
Pressed on why she decided to sue Royal Caribbean, Kimberly says: ‘Well I think it’s fair to say I didn’t think that that window should be open in that particular location.’
The couple say they decided never to watch the harrowing on-board CCTV footage that showed Anello lifting Chloe up and placing her on a wooden guardrail before she plummeted 150ft.
‘I don’t think I can watch that, I’m sorry,’ Kimberly reiterates, breaking away to compose herself as Louis mentions the video.
The cruise operator has asked a Miami judge to decide the case in its favor, questioning in a new motion how the couple could form conclusions about the horrifying accident when they didn’t examine the evidence for themselves.
‘By their own admission, Plaintiffs (Chloe’s parents) have never seen the video footage of the incident or even discussed the details of the incident with Mr. Anello, the only known eyewitness,’ they write.
‘While RCL deeply sympathizes with Plaintiffs and understands why grieving parents may wish to avoid reliving such events, it remains that Plaintiffs brought a lawsuit against RCL over these very events.
‘In fact, Plaintiffs decided to bring the lawsuit on the same day of Chloe’s death, without knowing the full facts and circumstances that caused it.
‘Indeed, Plaintiffs were not aware that, for eight seconds, Mr. Anello leaned over the railing that was inches in front of the window or that after he picked up Chloe and placed her on the railing, he then placed her on the windowsill that faced the pier below.
‘Similarly, Plaintiffs were not aware that Mr. Anello held Chloe by the open window, which was flanked by tinted and reflective glass and open to the outside light, air and noise, for thirty four seconds.’
Salvatore Anello accidentally dropped his 18-month-old granddaughter Chloe through an open window of the ship docked in San Juan in July 2019
Haunting on-board camera footage of the incident shows Anello alone on deck with Chloe, who leads her grandfather away from the H20 zone splash pool towards the glass sides of the ship. He lifts the toddler up and sits her down on a wooden handrail but suddenly she tumbles forwards and disappears from view
Anello avoided jail last week when he was sentenced to three years probation in a Puerto Rican court that he will be allowed to serve back in his native Indiana.
He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of negligent homicide but lawyers for the elderly IT worker say he only did so to bring his exhausting criminal prosecution to an end and ensure he didn’t serve jail time overseas.
Anello avoided jail last week when he was sentenced to three years probation
Chloe’s family continue to blame Royal Caribbean for the tragedy, arguing there were no signs or notices to warn Anello that the ‘wall of glass’ he was holding Chloe against on the ship’s pool deck contained individual panes that could be slid open.
Their case includes evidence from the vessel’s former chief security officer, Elton Koopman, who claims he was so concerned that the windows posed a ‘fall hazard’ that he raised it in staff meetings and instructed colleagues to keep them closed.
The Wiegands claim that if a staff member ignored those warnings and left the window open it would make Royal Caribbean directly culpable for Chloe’s death.
But they will never be able to determine if that’s the case because the company ‘intentionally’ deleted the 12 hours of on-board camera footage prior to the accident, despite both the couple’s lawyers and the US Coast Guard asking for it, they allege.
Royal Caribbean claims in its latest motion that investigators found no mention of Mr Koopman’s warnings in minuted staff meetings and that he was fired for ‘stealing and consuming alcohol on the job.’
Furthermore, they say a search dating back to 2013 suggests there has never been a similar accident, nor any incident, resembling what happened to Chloe, of any of the 25 vessels they operate with the same window design.
‘Not only is there no evidence of prior incidents (substantially similar or otherwise) occurring in any RCL vessel, Chloe’s unforeseeable incident appears to be the first of its kind in the history of the cruise line industry,’ the filing states.
Royal Caribbean maintains Chloe’s death was the result of Anello’s ‘unforeseeable’ and ‘reckless’ behavior, and that he would only have had to rely on his basic senses to detect from the ‘outside light, noise and wind’ that the window was ajar.
‘Simply put, Mr Anello placed Chloe in harm’s way in a very obvious manner and RCL had no duty to warn him not to do so,’ they write.
‘In fact, the act perpetrated by Mr Anello – lifting an 18- month old child several feet above the deck and then dropping her – is dangerous whether the fall is several feet to the deck below or hundreds of feet.
‘Even Mr. Anello admits that Chloe could have been hurt if she slipped from his hands, even if the window had been closed. He also concedes that a person lifting a child to window should first confirm the presence of glass and that failure to do so would be reckless.’
Royal Caribbean has also torn into Anello’s assertion that it was harder for him to distinguish between a tinted glass pane and thin air because he is color blind.
‘Mr Anello can distinguish between different shades of colors when he approaches a traffic signal. He does not have any restrictions on his drivers’ license,’ the firm’s lawyers write.
‘Mr Anello does not recall having problems seeing or distinguishing glass or tinted glass prior to the subject incident. He has never walked into a glass door.’
Chloe plummeted 150ft from the 11th floor of the ship onto a concrete dock beneath it
Anello said he did not know the window in the children´s play area was open and that he lifted 18-month-old Chloe up to it so she could knock on the glass
Chloe’s parents are suing the cruise operator in a separate civil lawsuit, arguing there were no signs or notices to warn Anello that the ‘wall of glass’ he held Chloe up against contained windows that could be slid open
US District Judge Donald L. Graham is expected to take several months to rule on the latest round of motions, with both sides claiming they should be awarded a summary judgment without the case needing to go to jury trial in April.
If he decides in favor of the Wiegands, the suit will still go before jurors to decide on damages that will likely run into tens of millions of dollars.
The couple have always maintained, however, that their sole motivation is to force Royal Caribbean to make windows safer on its globetrotting fleet of ships so that the Freedom of the Seas tragedy is never repeated.
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 accident unfolded.
Their 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 $800m vessel had even set sail.
Haunting on-board camera footage of the incident shows Anello alone on deck with Chloe, who leads her grandfather away from the H20 zone splash pool towards the glass sides of the ship.
He lifts the toddler up and sits her down on a wooden handrail but suddenly she tumbles forwards as she tries to bang on the glass as she liked to do at her brother’s hockey games.
Michael Winkleman, the couple’s lawyer, said the fact that neither parent had watched the video some 18 months on, illustrated how upset and traumatized they are.
He said Kimberly, herself an attorney, quickly came to the conclusion that she wanted to sue because she recognized that the windows were dangerous.
‘This case has never been about money, it’s about holding Royal Caribbean accountable,’ Winkleman told DailyMail.com.
‘Furthermore, it’s noteworthy that it only took Kimberly a few moments to realize how unsafe these windows are once the incident occurred.
‘There’s absolutely no requirement for her to watch the video. That’s why she hired us to advocate on her behalf, which we will do until the bitter end.’
Grandfather who dropped Chloe Wiegand to her death gives tearful deposition
Chloe Wiegand’s tormented grandpa breaks down in tears as he describes replaying the tragic toddler’s fatal plunge over and over in his mind every day.
‘I didn’t know what happened. And at first I thought she did fall in front of me. And then I realized what happened and I watched her fall,’ Salvatore Anello says in a harrowing deposition videotaped by Royal Caribbean’s lawyers.
He adds: ‘Everything after I saw her fall is pretty tough to remember. After I saw her land, that’s what I see every day. That’s what I see every day.’
Quizzed on whether it would be dangerous to hold a toddler up against an open window 11 floors up, Anello responds ‘absolutely.’
‘And you the reason you think a person shouldn’t lift a child through an open window is that a child could accidentally drop out of that window and die, correct?’ asks Jerry Hamilton, Royal Caribbean’s lawyer.
Anello, once more responds ‘absolutely … that would be dangerous, yes.’
‘If you’re going to hold an 18 month old child up to glass that is 11 stories above a deck, on a ship deck, should a person check to see whether there is glass there?’
Anello responds: ‘One should be sure that there’s glass there.’
He goes on to say, however, that in the moments before Chloe fell from the Freedom of the Seas, he was adamant he was holding her against a fixed glass wall, despite not touching it to be certain.
‘The entire ship had a wall of glass in an open-aired area. At no time did I not think that there was a protective wall of glass around me. I had confirmed wrongly in my mind that there was glass,’ Anello says.
He compares it to a hockey rink or the tenth floor of the Indiana office block where he works.
‘If you go to the Sears Tower, there’s no way that you would think that, gee, I should see if there’s glass on that top story. Same thing.’
The tormented grandfather gasps in anguish when he’s shown photos of Chloe paddling close to the 11th floor window where he lifted her on to a guardrail before she fell.
Asked if he intentionally dropped his granddaughter, Anello says ‘absolutely not’ before breaking down in tears.
‘Chloe got out of my hands because there wasn’t glass I expected there. I had my hands on her the whole time,’ he insists.
‘After the accident, I remember Kim getting there and screaming, ‘Why would you have a window open?’ And that’s the first time I realized it was like a window … and not just like a missing pane of glass.’