MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The distraught family of a 1½-year-old girl, who died after falling from the 11th story of a cruise ship docked in Puerto Rico, is disputing the report that the child’s grandfather is responsible and has hired a Miami attorney.
Michael Winkleman from the Miami-based law firm Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina and Winkleman is now representing the family of Chloe Wiegand.
Initial reports from police in Puerto Rico indicated Chloe fell out of her grandfather’s arms from aboard Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas. However, her family says that is not the case.
“The story we are all hearing is not the full truth and the family has retained me to do my best to set the record straight and let the public know what happened that day that led to this tragic loss,” said Winkleman in a news conference Tuesday morning.
Winkleman says her grandfather, Salvatore Anello of Valparaiso, Indiana, put the girl on a ledge near a window while in a kids play area called the H20 zone, which is a water park area on the ship.
However, the maritime attorney explained Anello did not drop the girl, but she fell through an open glass pane that should have been closed securely.
“While playing in the play zone, there’s this wall of windows, all glass windows and the grandfather thought it was entirely glass,” Winkleman said.
Chloe and her family are from Indiana where she loved to watch her 10-year-old brother play hockey games and she used to love to bang on the glass Winkleman explained.
Since she loved banging on the glass, Winkleman said, “he takes her over to the windows, he thinks it’s all glass and there is a wood railing right here and he puts her up on there thinking she’s going to bang on the glass and it’s going to be great and she goes to bang on the glass and the next thing he knows she’s gone.”
Anello did not know the window was open and told Winkleman he “thought it was like we were at a hockey game.”
Winkleman says this was a terrible tragedy that could have been prevented.
“Why would you ever put windows in a kids play area that passengers can open?” he asked during the news conference. “I know that Freedom of the Seas is an older ship, this is a ship from 2006, and I know that newer ships do not have the same configuration where passengers cannot open windows so clearly this is a hidden danger.”
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Puerto Rico Port Authority spokesman Jose Carmona said officials are investigating whether the window was already opened or if someone had opened it.
Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Public Security Elmer Roman told local media, as seen on a video by Primera Hora, “the grandfather took the little girl to look at the window. She fell and died.”
“We haven’t interviewed everyone in the family yet,” Roman said. “We’re looking to see if there are cameras that caught what happened.”
Winkleman said there is a video of the incident that his law firm is now working on getting released.
Her family is still in Puerto Rico waiting for Chloe’s body to be released, after which, they will return to Indiana where her father, Alan Weigand, is a police officer with the South Bend Police Department.
The Police Department asked “the community to pray for the entire Wiegand family as they grieve and to respect their privacy.”
The family lives in Granger, Indiana, about 10 miles northeast of South Bend.
Chloe was traveling with her parents, her 10-year-old brother and her grandparents.
Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises called it a “tragic incident” and said it was helping the family. In a statement, the company said, “We are assisting local authorities in San Juan, PR, as they make inquiries after an incident aboard Freedom of the Seas on Sunday. We do not have further information to share at this point.”
A spokeswoman said the ship departed Puerto Rico on Monday for St. Maarten on a new itinerary and declined further comment.
The ship carries more than 4,500 passengers and crew. The ship will return to Puerto Rico on July 14.