‘I just miss him:’ killed soldier’s stepsister speaks at reservist’s sentencing

by Bill Graveland

CALGARY – The stepsister of a soldier killed in a training accident in Afghanistan cried Monday at the sentencing of a Calgary reservist.

Heather Middleton was one of six scheduled witnesses called by the prosecution to discuss the impact of the death of Cpl. Josh Baker and injuries to four others during a training accident in Afghanistan nearly three years ago.

“I just miss him,” said an emotional Middleton, who became Baker’s stepsister when he was just 10.

She said attending the ramp ceremony at CFB Trenton was devastating to the family.

“We saw the casket come off the plane. I had trouble standing and my daughter beside me was just so heartbroken,” she said.

“It was just the worst thing. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was just unbearable and so unbelievable.”

Last month, Maj. Darryl Watts was found guilty by a military jury of unlawfully causing bodily harm and negligent performance of military duty in a training accident in Afghanistan that left one soldier dead and seriously injured four others.

Baker died when a Claymore anti-personnel mine loaded with 700 steel balls peppered the platoon on a practice range near Kandahar city in February 2010.

Four other soldiers hit by the blast suffered serious wounds.

Master Bombardier Daniel Scott, one of the wounded, said he has a 25-centimetre scar on his chest to remind him of what happened.

“I was pretty lucky. It was unlucky to be hit but the best thing is to be able to carry on. It was a series of unfortunate events,” Scott said.

“I know the impact on (Baker’s) family. It wasn’t a combat death and I guess it was just a sad thing to happen.”

The prosecution had argued that Watts, who was the platoon commander, turned a blind eye to safety standards and abdicated his duty as a leader when he handed over responsibility to his second-in-command, Warrant Officer Paul Ravensdale, who was an expert on the weapon.

The day of the accident, the range was divided into four training sections. The first two tests of the anti-personnel mine went off without a hitch. But when the second firing occurred, the ball bearings fired backward, hitting Baker and four others.

Videos show several soldiers, including Watts, standing around watching the test. They were not inside armoured vehicles or standing behind them for cover, as set out in Canadian Forces safety guidelines.

Lt.-Col. Michael Prendergast was Baker’s commanding officer in Edmonton at the Loyal Edmonton Regiment.

He said the death hurt morale among members of the platoon back in Edmonton.

Prendergast said it was wartime and although accidents do happen this one shouldn’t have.

“This one … Cpl. Baker … it just seemed quite frankly senseless and useless,” he said.

“Rules were either bent or broken and when I say rules, I mean safety rules.”

The maximum sentence for unlawfully causing bodily harm is up to 10 years behind bars. Negligent performance of duty can bring dismissal with disgrace from the Canadian Forces. Watts could also face a reduction in rank and a severe reprimand.




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