Driver died in crash on wrong lane

Stephen James

Stephen James

First published in News Banbury Cake: Photograph of the Author by

A MOTORIST who was nearly twice the drink-drive limit died after hitting an oncoming car on the wrong side of the road, an inquest heard.

Stephen James, of Squires Close, Brize Norton, was driving on the Oxford-bound A40 at Barnard Gate, Witney, when motorists saw his car go into the Witney-bound lane.

An inquest at Oxford’s County Hall heard Mr James, a father-of-three, had a history of depression and alcohol problems and had been told by his wife, Shirley, that she was considering a divorce.

Oxfordshire coroner Darren Salter recorded a verdict of accidental death and said: “Because of the mental health history and recent events, and the fact that Mr James has had suicidal thoughts previously, I have had to consider whether this was an attempt to take his own life.

“The evidence of Mrs James was that he appeared fine and was in a good mood and that she didn’t think he had an intent to take his own life.

“There is not sufficient evidence to return a verdict, so that is not my findings.”

Jeremy Howell was driving towards Witney with his seven-year-old daughter, Sophia, when Mr James’ car smashed into them at about 6.50pm on April 22 last year.

Mr Howell told the inquest: “I cut my speed and moved over to the left as far as I could, hoping to leave a gap. There was then a huge impact and my car spun.”

The coroner said: “One thing that is clear is there is nothing Mr Howell could have done to avoid the collision.

“What isn’t clear is the cause of Mr James’ vehicle entering the wrong carriageway.”

PC Kevin Spiller, collision investigator, told the inquest that CCTV recorded on a bus showed the car’s movement across the carriageway appeared sudden.

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He said Mr James, 47, who had been in the RAF before working as a civilian driver at Brize Norton, was not wearing a seat belt and was driving at about 50mph. The limit on the road is 60mph.

A toxicology report said there was 149mg of alcohol per 100ml of Mr James’ blood. The legal limit is 80mg.

Mr Salter said: “It is relevant to consider there was alcohol in his blood – just under twice the drink-drive limit. We all know the affect that can have, particularly on a person’s actions when driving.”

An air ambulance attended and paramedic Paul Jefferies said Mr James was already suffering a cardiac arrest.

Professor Ian Roberts, a consultant pathologist, said the cause of Mr James’ death was a blunt chest injury with cardiac arrest and hemopericardium – an accumulation of blood surrounding the heart – associated with resuscitation procedures.

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