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.

Chloe Wiegand (Courtesy: Michael Winkleman)

“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.

(Source: WAPA-TV)

“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.

Chloe Wiegand (Courtesy: Michael Winkleman)

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.

Chloe Wiegand (Courtesy: Michael Winkleman)

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.

(CBS4)

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.

Ted Scouten

Comments (7)
  1. Camille Pagnotta says:

    why would you have an open window 150 feet above ground anywhere…wether it was a cruise ship ….or an office building..wow..,Royal Caribbean is at fault here…

    1. Brandon Evans says:

      There’s shared fault. Lifting a child up higher then their own height and leaving them to their own devices is still bizarre. You wouldn’t want her to fall back and hit her head. You hold on to the child.

    2. Laura Daniel says:

      So that people can have fresh air?? Should they also not sell balcony cabins? An open window is the exact same as a balcony. You can have a balcony 60 floors up if you want. It is CLEAR that the window is open. The glass is tinted. The window opens well above waist height. Common sense would say, hey don’t lift a kid into an open window.

  2. Jean Knisley Schmidt says:

    Don’t let you kids bang on glass windows. Don’t let them touch glass doors. There is nothing worse than to work at a restaurant, store, or other public building and have to wipe off all the smudge marks from little kids all the times. Same goes for bakery cases and glass cases at stores. Teach them to keep their grimy hands off the glass. I am sorry for this unfortunate accident. I hope people wise up.

  3. We’ve been on several Royal Caribbean ships – including a sister ship of the Freedom that is exactly the same. They have those glassed in areas by the pools – and it is VERY obvious that they have open windows in them. You’d have to be pretty clueless to not notice where the open windows are vs the glass that is closed. They open those windows to get a breeze through the pool areas when it’s hot. I’ve never seen anyone put a child on the railings there. I feel this family is trying to deflect blame from the grandfather and get money out of this tragedy. It’s so sad that this happened – but this was a tragic accident due to negligence on the part of the adult and not the cruise ship’s fault.

  4. Ken Hooper says:

    I am sorry for this tragic little girls death. However. Wendy above is correct. Some of those windows on that deck are opened. You would have to be pretty clueless to not notice that. Why on earth would you pick up a child above the handrail in front of an open window when you could leave her on the ground and let her look out the window below you and in front of you ? He might as well let her wander into the pool and drown directly behind her as that is what deck they were on. I have been on this ship and I am sailing on it in 87 day’s. For this attorney make a statement ” why would you have an open window in a kids play area is a lie”.She was not in a child’s play area, She was in her grandfathers arms lifted above his waist and the handrail and placed by him in front of an open window and a tragedy occurred. The negligence rests squarely with him.

  5. Lynda Stewart says:

    I’m relieved that others feel the same way I do and I am so horrified with what has happened. I don’t want to sound mean or cruel but I just cannot understand why anyone would place an 18-month old toddler on a rail, not have a firm grasp on her for the purpose of letting her “bang on the glass” on a deck 11 stories up on the ship? Even if the results were not so tragic, she could have suffered very serious cuts to her delicate hands and arms. When is such a practice safe and wise? Freedom of the Seas may of had an open window, but I really feel it was that grandfather’s actions that really compromised the child’s safety, unfortunately. As hard as it is, I feel he bears the responsibility for this actions and I hope he realizes that. The fault is definitely not exclusively Royal Caribbean’s by any means, if at all. We all need to practice safe principles every day of our lives. Unfortunately, not practicing principles of safety on the grandfather’s part resulted in such tragedy and I feel for the family who have suffered such a devastating loss.

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