Grandfather charged in girl's cruise ship death says colorblindness may have been a factor

Man charged in cruise ship death "colorblind"

Last Updated Nov 26, 2019 9:25 AM EST

Salvatore "Sam" Anello, the Indiana man accused of negligent homicide in the death of his granddaughter Chloe Wiegand, said what happens in the criminal investigation is not important because "the worst thing" has already happened. In an exclusive interview with CBS News, Anello spoke for the first time about the moment 18-month-old Wiegand fell from his grasp out of a cruise ship window in Puerto Rico.

"Chloe being gone is the worst thing ever. So I'm like, whatever," Anello said. "There's nothing worse that they could do to me than what's already happened."

Wiegand fell 150 feet from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship docked in Puerto Rico in July. Anello was holding the girl up against what he thought was a bank of closed windows, when she slipped from his grasp. Despite the family's wishes not to pursue charges, Puerto Rican prosecutors have charged him with negligent homicide

"Whether, you know, they find me guilty of whatever or not. It's inconsequential because of what has already happened is so horrible," Anello said.

Anello told "CBS This Morning" lead national correspondent David Begnaud that he is colorblind and believes that may have contributed to him not realizing the window was open.

"Some of the people who've been on the boat have written to me and said, 'David, the windows are tinted, and so it is pretty easy to recognize that it's open,'" Begnaud said.

"I'm colorblind, David," Anello said. "I don't know. I just never saw it. ... I've been told that that's a reason that it might have happened."

Anello recalled looking for Chloe on the floor after she fell before realizing she had fallen out of the ship.  

"I saw her fall. I saw her fall the whole way down. I saw her fall, and I was just in disbelief. I was like, 'Oh my God,' ... And then I just remember screaming that I thought there was glass," he said.

"Walk me through what you remember," Begnaud said. 

"So she's down at the — looking at the — out the window, and the glass. I bent down by her, and then we always, like, when you're — whenever we were at hockey games, we would bang on the glass, and it was fun, you know? So when I knelt down to be with her at that level, I couldn't reach the glass, really, with my fingertips, so I knew she couldn't. So that's when I decided I'd pick her up," he said. "So I, you know, was trying to stand her on the railing. And it happened in seconds."
 
"Can you show me how you were holding her? Like, was it kind of a bear hug, or was it —," Begnaud said.

"Kind of, yeah. I was trying to hold her like that. From what I remember. ... I had her, and I was trying to knock on the glass. And at that point I'm like, 'Well, I'm going to have to lean farther for her to be able to reach it,' right? Because I thought it was farther out than I expected," he said. 

Anello said at one point he had one arm around her and the other arm was trying to knock on the glass.

"I think that's the point where she slipped out of me," Anello said. "At no point during that whole incident did I think that, well, she fell out. It was, like, it was unbelievable. It's like it disappeared. It's like the glass disappeared."

"I don't know if there's a feeling more helpless than watching her fall —," Begnaud said.

"No," Anello said. "This seems like it's all not real. She's such a beautiful little girl, a perfect little girl … smart little girl, smart little girl that everybody should have been able to know, that everybody should have been able to know."

Grandfather charged in granddaughter's cruise ship death responds to investigation

"The video that CBS News saw, and I saw myself, appears to show you holding Chloe above the railing and over the railing ... I have to think a juror who watches that may think, 'That was reckless,'" Begnaud said.

"Not knowing that there wasn't glass there, if somehow I thought that she was going beyond the glass, I wouldn't have done it. I would have been appalled," Anello said. "I wouldn't mess around with Chloe in — that kind of — or anybody with a dangerous kind of — never. Never. ... If there was some kind of warning sign, we wouldn't even have been near it. We wouldn't even have been near it."

"Who do you blame in this situation?" Begnaud asked.

"The more and more days go by, you know, initially I couldn't — I couldn't help but blame myself. But I know that — I know that I — if there was a sign, if there was something that indicated there was a chance for that window to be an opening, that this wouldn't happen," Anello said.

"You blame the cruise line?" Begnaud asked.

"I do," he said. "I just want them to fix the boat. Just fix it. Just fix the boat."

"What was your lowest point?" Begnaud asked.

"I don't know if I've reached it yet. What's keeping me going now is the process right now, and when it's over, regardless of the outcome, I think I'm going to need some — some help."

The surveillance video shown to CBS News by attorney Michael Winkleman, who represents Chloe's family but not Anello in his criminal case, appeared to show that the time it took for Anello to pick Chloe up and hold her up to a window above the railing before she fell was about six seconds. But CBS News has since learned that video was not in real time. The incident actually lasted more than 30 seconds.

Winkleman said the video he showed CBS News was the same format he received from prosecutors.

"Any variation in time likely has to do with software issues," he said in a statement. "Most importantly, whether it was five, 10 or 30 seconds does nothing to change the fact that Sam reasonably believed that the window was closed."

Anello is due back in court December 17. He faces three years in prison if convicted.

Winkleman showed CBS News medical records seeming to support Anello's claim that he is colorblind. Chloe's parents plan to file suit against Royal Caribbean before the end of the year.

In a statement, the cruise line called this a tragic accident and said it would have no further comment, out of respect for the family and because of the pending court case.