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Grandfather of Toddler Who Fell to Her Death From Cruise Ship Pleads Guilty

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The grandfather of an 18-month old girl who fell to her death from an open window 11 stories high aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship last year has pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in Puerto Rico, where the incident took place.

Salvatore Anello, who first pleaded not guilty to the charge, said he decided to accept a plea deal that included no jail time, the ability to serve probation in his native Indiana and, more importantly, to close a chapter in the tragedy.

“I took a plea deal today to try to help end part of this nightmare for my family, if possible,” he said in a statement per NBC on Tuesday, after family attorney Michael Winkleman announced the decision.

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When Chloe Wiegand fell to her death, the family immediately said there was an open window on the 11th deck of the Freedom of the Seas at a children’s waterpark. Puerto Rican authorities and Royal Caribbean claimed otherwise, hence the charges of negligence against the grandfather.

Anello reiterated his version in his statement on Tuesday.

“In my experience, any elevated public place I’ve been with that much glass has always been a protective barrier,” he said. “From my point of view, at the moment the accident happened, it was as if this wall of protective glass disappeared. I was in complete disbelief. It was a nightmare of the likes I could never have imagined before. I wasn’t drinking and I wasn’t dangling her out of a window. I just wanted to knock on the glass with her as we did together so many times before. I was just so horribly wrong about our surroundings.”

Michael Winkleman, the attorney for the Wiegand family, told NBC News the plea deal “is in the best interests of the family so that they can close this horrible chapter and turn their focus to mourning Chloe.”

The Wiegand family filed a federal civil action in December against Royal Caribbean Cruises, alleging that the company was at fault for the accident. A judge approved the suit this month after Royal Caribbean sought to block it.

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Holland America Ship Given OK to Cross Panama Canal

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A Holland America Line cruise ship carrying four dead passengers and dozens of others who are sick – including two who tested positive for the coronavirus – has been given permission to pass through the Panama Canal and return to Fort Lauderdale.

The Zaandam had initially been denied entry into Chile on its South American itinerary and then denied the chance to pass through the Canal to get back to its home port in Florida, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper.

The media outlet said the boat is currently anchored outside Panama Canal waters, where healthy passengers are being transferred to Holland America’s Rotterdam.

The Panama Canal Authority said in a statement it “supports all efforts being made to ensure an expedited return home for cruise passengers and crew on Holland America’s Zaandam.”

Holland America Line released a statement saying “We are aware of reported permission for both Zaandam and Rotterdam to transit the Panama Canal in the near future. We greatly appreciate this consideration in the humanitarian interest of our guests and crew. This remains a dynamic situation, and we continue to work with the Panamanian authorities to finalize details.”

No timetable was given for when the ships would return to Fort Lauderdale, nor did Holland America offer any information regarding whether the number of sick passengers had grown past the previous update of 138. It normally takes 72 hours to travel from the west side of the canal to the east and then back to Fort Lauderdale.

One American citizen is believed to be among the four deceased passengers. The passengers were ordered to self-isolate in their staterooms since March 22.

Whether the Zaandam will be allowed to dock in Fort Lauderdale for the same humanitarian reasons that officials allowed the ship to pass through the Panama Canal remains to be seen. The Sun-Sentinel noted that several Broward County commissioners were alarmed at the idea of the Zaandam docking at Port Everglades.

Commissioner Michael Udine told the paper Sunday morning that Port Everglades notified county commissioners late Saturday with its mandates for the passengers, including the following:

All illnesses and conditions must be accurately disclosed and documented; the cruise line, at its expense, will provide all protective equipment to all responders; temperature readings are required for all disembarking crew and passengers; and the cruise line, at its expense, will arrange for private ambulance transportation, among other issues.

And, “no less than 24 hours in advance of the start of debarkation, the cruise line will present a security plan for review and approval… how passengers will debark orderly, safely and in compliance with current health advisories (i.e. social distancing). Failure to maintain good order may result in an immediate suspension of the debarkation until the situation is under control,” according to the guidelines.

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