03/03/2015 11:46 EST | Updated 05/03/2015 05:59 EDT

Friend says Cdn charged in boy's drowning in St. Lucia was trying to help

VIEUX FORT, St. Lucia - Supporters of a Canadian man charged in the drowning of a four-year-old boy in St. Lucia say he was trying to help the child after seeing him struggle in the water.

Sahab Jamshidi is charged with causing death by gross negligence or recklessness in the drowning of Terrel Joshua Elibox — a charge that carries a possible sentence of life in prison, the Royal St. Lucia Police Force said.

A friend who spoke to Jamshidi after he appeared in court Tuesday said the 34-year-old Hamilton-area man has been freed on bail but can't leave the island country. His next scheduled hearing is on April 24.

Stephen Verbeek said his longtime friend is staying positive despite spending several days in custody.

He described Jamshidi as "one of the most selfless, caring people I've ever met," one who has "touched a lot of people" both in Hamilton and in St. Lucia, where he previously went to school. Jamshidi had returned to the island last month for a visit.

"That's the last human being I know who should end up in jail," he said in a phone interview from Hamilton.

Police said last week investigators were told Terrel was given a ride by a kite surfer on Feb. 22, fell into the sea and submerged.

A search and rescue mission was immediately conducted, but police said the boy's body was not recovered until two days later.

In a report on a local TV station, family members of the boy said they had no idea he was missing until a man approached Terrel's grandmother, saying he'd taken the boy on his surfboard and the child had fallen off.

In a Facebook page he set up in Jamshidi's defence, Verbeek offered a different account of the incident, which he said happened on his friend's birthday.

"He was kite surfing and saw a child bobbing in the water barely swimming," Verbeek wrote.

"He had tried to save him but ultimately the waves stripped the boy and his board away from him."

Others who identified themselves as friends and relatives also rallied in his defence on Facebook, some recalling an incident last fall when Jamshidi helped an injured young man he encountered while cycling on a Hamilton trail.

They praised his altruistic nature and his community involvement as a soccer referee.