Grandfather Charged Over Toddler Cruise Ship Death Maintains Innocence: 'I Thought She Fell in Front of Me'

The grandfather accused of the negligent homicide of 18-month-old Chloe Wiegand has described how he was sure that the toddler had slipped in front of him before realizing she fell through an open cruise ship window.

Salvatore "Sam" Anello, 50, has given his first interview since he was charged in connection to the death of his granddaughter, who plummeted more than 150 feet after falling through an open window on the Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas while it was docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico on July 7.

Anello has said the child's death was an accident and denies criminal responsibility. Speaking to CBS This Morning, Anello reiterated that he had placed his granddaughter up to the window to lean against it, not realizing there was no glass pane there.

"I was trying to reach the glass, and I know that we leaned over to try to have her reach the glass. And at that point she slipped," Anello said.

"I didn't realize it wasn't any glass till absolutely it was too late. I mean, even when she first fell, I thought she fell in front of me. I thought she felt the front of me."

Describing how he felt the moment he realized his granddaughter was no longer in his grasp, Anello said: "I remember trying to find her on the floor and then I saw her fall, I saw her fall the whole way down. And I think for a while I was in shock and I was just standing there.

"And then I just remember screaming that I thought there was glass. I kind of relive it all the time and I just thought there was glass there. I don't know what else to tell you."

When asked how he feels about Puerto Rican prosecutors launching a criminal investigation against him, Anello replied: "Chloe being gone is the worst thing ever. There's nothing worse that they can do to me and what's already happened."

Anello faces up to three years in jail if he is found guilty of negligent homicide.

The 50-year-old has already appeared at San Juan Superior Court to face the charge. No evidence, including the vital surveillance footage from the 11th floor of the cruise liner, was presented. He is due to appear in court on December 17, when a trial date will be set.

Chloe's parents have maintained that they believe Anello was not responsible for their daughter's death and that the blame lies with Royal Caribbean.

"The thing that he has repeatedly told us is: 'I believed that there was glass.' He will cry over and over. At no point ever, ever has Sam ever put our kids in danger," Kimberly Wiegand told NBC's Today in July.

"We have a lot of questions. Primarily, why is there an open window in the kid's play area 11 stories off the ground? We obviously blame them for not having a safer situation on the 11th floor of that cruise ship. There are a million things that could've been done to make that safer."

In a statement to Newsweek, Royal Caribbean said: "This was a tragic incident. Out of respect for the family's privacy during this very sad time, and because the government has chosen to charge Mr. Salvatore Anello with negligent homicide in a matter now before the courts, we have no further comment."

The new cruise ship Freedom of the Seas, the world's largest cruise ship, owned by Royal Caribbean, sits off the shores of Bayonne, New Jersey 12 May, 2006 in New York Harbor. Salvatore Anello has given his first interview since being charged with negligent homicide over his granddaughter's death on the cruise ship in July. DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty