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Retired Manitoba soldier offers 'sorrow, regret' to family of dead colleague

Paul Ravensdale, a retired soldier convicted in a deadly training accident in February 2010 in Afghanistan, enters his sentencing hearing with a family member at CFB Shilo, Man., Tuesday, March 5, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

SHILO, Man. - A retired soldier apologized Tuesday for leading a training accident in Afghanistan that left one colleague dead and four others injured.

"I feel horrible and I would like to extend my deepest sorrow, regret and remorse," former warrant officer Paul Ravensdale said during his sentencing hearing before a court martial on four charges, including breach of duty causing death.

"My intent wasn't to go over and have this happen. My intent was to go over and do some good."

The tall, bearded 43-year-old appeared tired and sluggish during his testimony. He is on anti-depression and other medications, and Ravensdale popped one pill as he started talking about the fateful training exercise he led near Kandahar on Feb. 12, 2010.

"I have been diagnosed with major depression and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). I have to take a variety of medications to stay calm and go to bed at night," he said.

"I can't move on. Every day, I relive Feb 12."

Ravensdale was leading a test of C-19 anti-personnel mines on a weapons range when one mine misfired and sent hundreds of steel ball bearings in the wrong direction. Instead of fanning out forwards, the bearings shot backwards toward soldiers who were watching.

Some of the projectiles hit and killed Cpl. Josh Baker, who was 24.

Ravensdale was convicted of ignoring the operating manual for C-19 mines, as well as for neglecting Canadian Forces training safety rules, which require soldiers to be at least 100 metres behind the mines or shielded from them.

Video played at the court martial showed some soldiers standing much closer and unprotected.

Josh Baker's commanding officer, Lt.-Col. Michael Prendergast, testified earlier Tuesday that the death affected the entire unit.

"To us ... it was quite a senseless death. We all thought it could have been preventable."

Ravensdale said he does not know why the mine went off the way it did, and he instructed soldiers to stay behind a row of light armoured vehicles, or LAVs, that were parked on the range.

"You didn't make sure people were behind the LAVs, did you?" asked the prosecutor, Maj. Tony Tamburro.

"I assumed people would have been listening to my directions," Ravensdale replied.

The maximum penalty for breach of duty causing death is life in prison, although the prosecution and defence have yet to reveal what sentences they will seek. That could happen as early as Wednesday.

Ravensdale was also convicted of breach of duty causing bodily harm, unlawfully causing bodily harm and negligent performance of military duty.

The hearing also heard from Baker's mother, who said the death of her son has left her with nothing to live for.

"When my son breathed his last breath on that day in Afghanistan, my life ended," Janet Baker testified.

"There is no life any more ... just an existence, a shell walking around."

She appeared gaunt and tired as she spoke, frequently wiped tears from her eyes and broke down as she recalled the moment a military notification team told her that her son was dead.

"I just bent over and I screamed for Joshua ... 'Dear God, No!'"

Later, she said, she watched as her son's coffin was taken off a military plane and to a funeral home, where she held him one last time.

"I told him, 'I will miss you, son, until I see you in heaven.'"

Ravensdale faced the most serious charges stemming from the accident because he gave the order to fire and was also the safety officer on the weapons range that day. Days after the accident, he told a military investigator he had no idea why the mine misfired. He said the blast was much louder than it should have been and "all hell broke loose."

His lawyer told the court martial last month that Ravensdale was following a training plan that had been approved by his superiors and could not have foreseen the accident.

Two of Ravensdale's superiors have already been convicted.

Maj. Darryl Watts was demoted two ranks to lieutenant and given a severe reprimand on charges of negligence and unlawfully causing bodily harm.

Maj. Christopher Lunney was demoted one rank to captain and given a severe reprimand after pleading guilty to negligent performance of duty.

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