By Amanda Batchelor – Senior Digital Editor, Trent Kelly – Reporter, Associated Press
1-year-old fell due to open glass pane, according to attorney
MIAMI – The attorney for an American family whose 1-year-old daughter died Sunday after falling from Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas cruise ship said the child’s grandfather did not drop her as was initially reported by officials in Puerto Rico, where the ship was docked.
Elmer Roman, of the Puerto Rican Department of Public Security, initially said that the grandfather appeared to be playing with the girl on the 11th floor of the ship when he “lifted her out of the open window and lost his grip.”
But the family’s attorney, Michael Winkleman, of Miami-based law firm Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, held a news conference Tuesday morning to dispute those claims.
According to Winkleman, the toddler, identified as Chloe Wiegand, fell due to an open glass pane that should have been closed securely.
“The grandfather takes her over to the window — he thinks it’s all glass. There’s a wood railing right there. He puts her up on there, thinking that she’s going to bang on the glass and it’s going to be great. And then she goes to bang on the glass, and the next thing you know, she’s gone,” Winkleman said.
Puerto Rico Ports Authority spokesman José Carmona told The Associated Press that the family was gathered in or near a dining hall on the 11th floor and that the grandfather sat the toddler on the edge of a window. He said officials are investigating whether the window was already opened or if someone had opened it.
Regardless, police Sgt. Nelson Sotelo told The Associated Press that the grandfather is under investigation and the family of the child will remain in the U.S. territory until the investigation is complete.
“They’re in shock,” he said.
Authorities said the girl was traveling with her parents, two siblings and two sets of grandparents aboard the Freedom of the Seas, which docked in Puerto Rico on Sunday after a weeklong trip through the Caribbean. The death occurred Sunday afternoon at the Panamerican dock in the capital of San Juan.
Winkleman said there is surveillance video of the incident, but he is waiting for Royal Caribbean to release it to him.
He said he has not yet filed a lawsuit on behalf of the family, but is waiting for more information from the cruise line before a decision is made.
“What was preventable here was — really I think Royal Caribbean needs to answer this question: Why would you ever, in a kids play area, put windows that passengers can open?” Winkleman asked.
Sotelo said the toddler’s maternal grandfather, Salvatore Anello of Valparaiso, Indiana, is the only person under investigation. He said the rest of the family is from Granger, Indiana.
The South Bend Police Department said in a statement that the girl was the daughter of Officer Alan Wiegand and asked “the community to pray for the entire Wiegand family as they grieve and to respect their privacy.”
Royal Caribbean Cruises called it a tragic incident and said it was helping the family. A spokeswoman said the ship departed Puerto Rico on Monday for St. Maarten on a new itinerary and declined further comment.