THE wife of a former Premier League footballer killed in a head-on crash in High Legh ‘prayed’ that her husband would return home safely.

An inquest into the death of former Aston Villa and Bolton Wanderers star Jlloyd Samuel was held at Warrington Town Hall today, Tuesday.

The 37-year-old, a Trinidad and Tobago international defender who was also capped for England at youth level, died in an accident on West Lane in High Legh on May 15 last year.

Former teammate and ex-Liverpool and England striker Emile Heskey was among those present in a packed public gallery.

Knutsford Guardian: Jlloyd Samuel, Bolton Wanderers.

Jlloyd Samuel during his time at Bolton Wanderers

Dascham footage played during the hearing showed Mr Samuel’s Range Rover Sport veering into the path of an oncoming Renault van on West Lane in Broomedge shortly before 8am on the day in question.

Only minutes earlier, he had dropped two of his children off with a friend before school.

Van driver Frederick Dare suffered ‘life changing’ injuries during the incident and walked into court with the aid of crutches.

He told the inquest that he had been on his way to complete his first delivery of the day at the Barn Owl pub before the crash.

Mr Dare, whose vehicle ended up on its side after the accident on the bridge over the M56, added: “I saw a vehicle and a cyclist in the far distance, the next minute there was a collision.

“The Range Rover was on my side of the road.

“I had to swerve, I tried to get out of the way – I just couldn’t stop, I tried to manoeuvre out of the way but it was just too late.”

Cyclist Neil McCabe was riding ahead of dad-of-four Mr Samuel, of Crabtree Lane in High Legh, on his way to work in Knutsford.

Knutsford Guardian: Floral tributes to Jlloyd Samuel at crash scene

Tributes left at the scene of the crash by football fans, friends and family

He told the court: “The first thing I knew was the noise immediately behind me, it was the loudest thing I’ve ever heard.

“When I stopped and turned around, the Range Rover appeared to be in mid-air – it banked on a grass verge, and it was immediately on fire.

“I dropped my bike and ran to the Range Rover, I went to the driver’s side door but it would not open and the handle was already hot.

“Looking in I could see flames, but because there was so much smoke I didn’t see anything else inside – I was very scared and panicking.

“Other road users arrived and somebody threw a brick through one of the windows, but we couldn’t get close to the vehicle because it was encircled with flames.

“I felt very helpless.”

Toxicologists found that alcohol levels in Mr Samuel’s blood were more than double the legal limit for driving, while he was travelling at around 65mph – slightly above the 60mph limit.

He suffered severe injuries to his head and upper body during the accident, and is likely to have died before the car burst into flames.

His injuries were so severe that the then Egerton FC player manager had to be identified through dental records and DNA profiling.

Knutsford Guardian: Floral tributes to Jlloyd Samuel at crash scene

Mr Samuel had been due to fly out to Africa on a business trip that afternoon, with his wife Emma describing how her husband had drunk a pint of beer in the Jolly Thresher pub in Lymm the previous evening before sharing a bottle of Prosecco with a group of friends at home.

A statement read out to court on her behalf said: “He should have been home by 7.45am and I started to panic.

“When I went outside into the garden I could see smoke in the distance, I phoned Jay several times but he did not answer.

“I was so worried when he did not return, I just knew something wasn’t right – especially when I saw the air ambulance.

“I was constantly praying the car would drive up the road.”

More than 800 people attended Mr Samuel’s funeral at St Mary’s Church in Lymm.

Alan Moore, senior coroner for Cheshire, concluded that he had died as a result of a road traffic collision.

After the inquest, Mrs Samuel – who had been with her husband for 17 years, and married for 10 years – addressed claims from the footballer’s sister made in a tabloid newspaper that he is still alive.

Leslie-Ann Samuel accused her of faking Mr Samuel’s death as part of an insurance scam.

In a statement, Emma Samuel said: “My children and I are relieved that this inquest has finally taken place.

“For the past 18 months, we have not only had to live with the tragic loss of my husband and the children’s father, but also ensure relentless threats, vicious lies and outrageous conspiracy theories from several callous individuals – some of whom have been in attendance at this inquest.

Knutsford Guardian: Floral tributes to Jlloyd Samuel at crash scene

“I have maintained a dignified silence throughout all of this out of respect for my husband and my children.

“But the truth will eventually win through and I will tell my story at the appropriate time.

“However, right now my only priority is for the wellbeing of my children and I ask that our privacy be respected.

“I would like to thank my family and close friends for their continued and unwavering support during this extremely challenging time – the children and I could not have coped without you.”

Samuel’s family paid tribute to the ‘loving son, father, husband and brother’ in the wake of his death last year.

In a statement, his loved ones said: “Jlloyd was a loving son, father, husband and brother – he was also a respected ex-footballer and businessman who played for a number of clubs.

“He was extremely popular and well-loved by all who were fortunate to know him.

“Jlloyd leaves behind a family including a wife and four children who are devastated by their sudden loss.”