Oct 8 2004 By Marc Baker, Chester Chronicle
ENGLAND goalkeeper David James has told how he hit the booze following the death of a Chester couple in a horrific car crash.
The player was travelling home from a training session with former club Aston Villa when the accident happened on the A540 New Chester Road, near Neston, Wirral, on October 13, 1999.
This week the Manchester City FC goalkeeper - due to play in tomorrow's World Cup qualifier against Wales - revealed in an article titled 'My first car crash' in The Sunday Times how he was left traumatised by the deaths of John and Sheila Sivell, who lived in Upton Lane, Upton, Chester.
The Sivells, both 69, died after their red Vauxhall Astra was hit by Mr James's Jaguar XJR close to the Gordale Nursery & Garden Centre, Chester High Road, Burton, South Wirral.
Mrs Sivell, a retired teacher, was in the passenger seat and died at the Countess of Chester Hospital hours after the crash. She sustained multiple injuries.
Her husband, a retired chemical engineer, died at the Royal Liverpool Hospital on February 12, 2000, as a result of head and spinal injuries. The pair had been married for 42 years and left a son, daughter and, at the time, four grandchildren.
In the article, Mr James, who lives in the Neston area, said he could do nothing to prevent the smash.
This was the ruling of Wirral coroner Christopher Johnson when an inquest into the death of John and Sheila Sivell was heard in June 2000.
At the hearing, police accident investigator PC Guy Hoppley said the former Liverpool number one had no time to take evasive action.
'The Jaguar was travelling between 66 and 73mph on a road with a 70mph speed limit,' he said. 'Mr Sivell, driving the Astra, had a view of 220 metres.
'He pulled out to cross the dual-carriageway and Mr James had insufficient time and distance to avoid the collision.'
In his article, Mr James said: 'I had one particularly tragic crash in my life and I'll never forget it.
'There's a dual carriageway I used to travel home and it went past a garden centre which was a renowned blackspot.
'On this particular day an older couple of retirement age had come to a stop to look both ways before pulling out.
'I was coming along the dual carriageway at between 60 and 70mph and I saw the car waiting to come across.
'They can't have looked carefully enough because just as I was about to go by they pulled out to cross to my side of the road. I braked but I had no time and, to my horror, I ploughed right into the side of them.
'It was awful - there was nothing I could do to slow down enough.'
Mr James added: 'My Jaguar was completely wrecked. I wasn't badly hurt so I could get out straight away.
'At first it seemed to me there was only one driver in the car so I phoned the emergency services and told them it was an old man.
'But by the time the ambulance arrived I could see his wife was also in the car. She died that same day and the man died six months later. I was devastated.
'I felt I had handled everything the right way, but I spent a lot of time drinking after that. It only occurred to me later how much it all got to me and how the drink affected the way I played. I took it out on my family as well.'
At the Sivells' inquest, eye-witness Linda Willis told how she saw Mr James's car overtake her and described him as 'an accident waiting to happen', estimating that the Jaguar was doing 90mph.
Mr James denied speeding, and said: 'No way, I was not doing 90mph. I'm not going to be racing into a build-up of traffic.'
PC Graham Carter detailed phone calls to Lloyds bank from Mr James's in-car phone just moments before he hit the Sivells' Astra.
The last of the calls was timed a little more than two minutes before the London-born keeper dialled 999. Mr James denied he was speaking on the phone at the time of the accident.
Recording a verdict of accidental death, Mr Johnson said: 'There was not enough time for David James to avoid the collision.'