On a summer’s evening in 1991 the life of a bright and popular young man was changed forever when he was struck by a drink driver as he crossed an Accrington road with his friend.
James Hitchon was 20 when the incident occurred on Peel Street on June 23.
Because of the severity of the injuries to the base of his skull the former St Christopher’s High School pupil never walked or stood unaided again.
His mum Bernadette Hitchon, of Lodge Street, initially quit her clerical job to care for him, teaching him how to eat, drink and talk again.
But after two decades of health torment – and being moved to various 24-hour care facilities in the north west – James died from pneumonia on September 23, aged 39.
Bernadette, a 57-year-old grandmother-of-two, has revealed her heartache following the end of her first born son’s tragic story.
"Everyone in Accrington who knew James is aware of what happened at that time," she said. "I haven’t thought about the man who was driving that car too much. I did initially but I’m not a bitter person and tried to blank it from my mind. We chose to concentrate on caring for James while we could.
"But it basically takes over your life. You can’t really make any plans and you are forever upset. It has been horrendous for his dad Robin, 62, brother and sister John, 35 and Sarah, 38, too," she added.
Before the horror crash Bernadette described James as a ‘happy go-lucky, sociable’ character who loved his job as a postman.
She said: "He liked cycling and had a particular interest in snooker and was a keen player who would often get the train to the crucible in Sheffield to watch the World Championships. He also used to love watching the Stone Roses and other Manchester groups. He was just a normal 20-year-old lad and we were just a happy family."
But the next 19-years of James’s life couldn’t have been more different than the first 20 years. Following the crash he was moved between numerous hospitals and 24-hour care facilities and taught how to speak and eat again. He was awarded more than £800,000 in damages as a result of the accident and confined to a wheelchair until his last days.
Despite the agony, Bernadette and her family, friends and James’s two grandmothers frequently threw parties for him at The Boars Head Pub on Burnley Road, Accrington.
Bernadette said: "His grandmas, my mum Millie and Robin’s mum Joan, who have both passed on, were very good at driving us to see him and visiting James.
"Even though he couldn’t do anything he was quite aware of his friends in the pub at parties. He could have a laugh with them and shout mum. He could have conversations, not like you and me, but if you prompted him about them he wouldn’t remember as his short term memory wasn’t good."
"He used to go to the Manchester City football matches with his carer and go and see famous artists perform in concerts but four years ago he started being fed by a tube."
She added: "That’s when he also lost his speech again. He always had a problem swallowing. And unfortunately he had to have an operation to be fed by a tube. The last two years of his life were spent between Sue Ryder and Chorley Hospital where he suffered pneumonia and often choked on his own saliva."
James Hitchon died from pneumonia on September 23. His funeral was held on September 30 at Accrington Crematorium.
He leaves mum Bernadette, a clerical worker, dad Robin, 62, a ceramic tiler, and his sister Sarah, 38, brother John, 35, who both live in Accrington and niece Scarlett and nephew Asterix.
On behalf of the Hitchon family Bernadette said: "The family feel James has a bit of peace at last because he has suffered so much."