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Bernie Federko couldn't believe it, didn't want to believe it. His friend and former St. Louis Blues teammate Rob Ramage - "a great man," Federko insisted - was guilty.

Guilty of impaired driving causing death. Guilty of dangerous driving causing death. Guilty of all five criminal charges filed against him, which could send Ramage to prison for a long, long time.

"Oh no," Federko said from his home in St. Louis. "I'm appalled by that. We've all said it was an accident. One of his dear friends was killed and [Ramage]has to live with that every day. He's suffered enough. He's paid his penance.

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"This is a horrendous shock."

It may have taken almost four years for Ramage to be tried in the three-car accident that killed former NHL defenceman Keith Magnuson, but it took less than five hours for a jury to find the 48-year-old former Toronto Maple Leafs captain guilty on all counts.

Reports said Ramage's wife, Dawn, broke into tears when the verdicts were announced yesterday in the Newmarket, Ont., courtroom. Afterward, a stoic Ramage spoke to the media and said this was "a tragedy for all involved, including my family."

The Ramages have a son in high school and two daughters in college.

Cindy Magnuson has two children and no husband.

A tragedy for all, indeed.

Whatever happened when Magnuson and Ramage attended the funeral for former NHLer Keith McCreary may remain in doubt. As the defence argued, there wasn't a single witness who testified Ramage was impaired when he left the reception held in McCreary's honour.

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But what is deadly certain is what transpired hours later on Dec. 15, 2003. Ramage's rented Chrysler Intrepid crossed over the centre line where it was struck by an oncoming SUV, which then hit another vehicle.

The accident in suburban Vaughan, Ont., just outside of Toronto, killed the 56-year-old Magnuson instantly. Ramage suffered a dislocated hip.

While the Magnuson family wrestled with its loss, Ramage endured both grief and guilt. He recovered from his hip injury and went about his business but it was never easy, friends said.

"Keith was a good friend of all of ours. We miss him," Federko said. "We know it bothers Rammer. The whole thing is a travesty."

The Chicago lawyer for Cindy Magnuson said much the same thing when informed of the decision.

"The Magnuson family was hoping for the best for Rob," noted Dan Kotin. "They have known for almost four years that what happened that day was nothing intentional. They feel like the prospect of Rob being convicted like this, sent to prison in Canada, taken away from his family, only compounds what is a tragic situation."

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And yet, Magnuson and her lawyer can now begin their civil suit against Ramage. A trial date in St. Louis County is set for Nov. 5 even though Ramage isn't expected to attend.

"The justice system plays itself out," said Kotin, who could take no action against Ramage until the criminal matters were settled. "The jury was obviously well convinced by the evidence presented by the prosecution … Our intention is to move forward."

But can anyone in this sad tale really do that?

Ramage will forever be branded by the accident that took his friend. The other stuff, about how he won a pair of Stanley Cups (one with the Calgary Flames, the other with the Montreal Canadiens), how he was captain of the Leafs and became an investment broker and even a minor hockey coach in St. Louis, none of that will matter as much.

In Calgary, Ramage was a star defenceman relegated to a supporting role behind the likes of Al MacInnis, Gary Suter and Brad McCrimmon and he accepted that without a fuss. In Toronto, he had his ups and downs but his peers always admired his professionalism.

Now, pending a successful appeal, if one is filed, the guy who spent 15 years playing for eight NHL teams is looking at life in prison for having four times the legal blood-alcohol limit in his system when the crash occurred.

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Yes, Ramage's lawyer argued the blood and urine tests conducted on Ramage were flawed; that the smell of beer in the car, as noted by several York Region police officers, came from the beer cans that exploded when the accident happened. But the jury's decision was most emphatic: guilty of impaired driving causing death; guilty of dangerous driving causing death; guilty on all counts.

As two families suffer, there is plenty enough tragedy for everyone.

"I'm very disappointed to hear [the results of the trial]" Federko said in a saddened voice. "I can't say enough good things about Rammer. He's such a great man. He really is."

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