Charlottes deadly year for pedestrians continued this week when a 28-year-old woman died Wednesday, four days after she was hit by a car as she walked along a dark city road without sidewalks.
In a separate incident on Thursday, Mint Hill police said a hit-and-run driver killed a 23-year-old man as he also walked along a road at night without sidewalks.
Both cases remain under investigation, and its not clear whether sidewalks would have saved either pedestrian.
But a recent Observer analysis found Charlotte has seen an increase in pedestrian-related crashes in the past decade. Motor vehicles struck walkers and bicyclists in 522 accidents last year compared with 454 in 2005.
Jaywalking was among one of the most common contributing factors in wrecks with pedestrians. Other factors were distracted drivers and a lack of sidewalks.
To date, 17 pedestrians have been struck and killed in Charlotte this year, and those numbers are on pace to surpass last years record 24 deaths. Mecklenburg County leads the state in the number of pedestrians injured and killed by motor vehicles.
On Saturday, Rhonda Williamson was walking along the right lane of Queen City Drive and was hit by a vehicle about 4:10 a.m., according to Charlotte-Mecklenburg police. She was not far from Interstate 85 and the beginning of Billy Graham Parkway in west Charlotte.
The driver, 21-year-old Ilse Joanna Perez of Charlotte, was charged with involuntary manslaughter, hit and run and DWI in connection with the crash.
Williamson died early Wednesday afternoon, police said.
Chris Nagy, a senior environmental technician, said he befriended Williamson and two of her friends this winter after frequently passing them on Wilkinson Boulevard on his way to work. Nagy said he would occasionally pull over and briefly talk and pray with them.
Nagy said he doesnt know why Williamson was walking on a street so late at night.
They were talkative, they welcomed my attention and concern, Nagy said.
Williamsons family could not be reached for comment.
Mint Hill accident
Early Thursday morning, Jeffrey Hardin was walking in the 6300 block of Lebanon Road near the entrance to Pine Lake Country Club.
Mint Hill police Lt. John Rowell said officers found Hardin in the middle of the road about 2:45 a.m., and he was pronounced dead shortly afterward.
Hardins brother declined to comment, but several friends expressed their shock and sorrow via Facebook and Twitter. Kristy Roberts of Mint Hill wrote on Facebook, R.I.P Jeff Hardin u were a great friend, son, father, and like a brother to many u will be missed but never forgotten.
Mint Hill police determined that the vehicle that hit Hardin wasnt traveling at a fast speed. Charlotte-Mecklenburg police are investigating whether a van they later found on fire off of Albemarle Road near Wilgrove-Mint Hill Road was stolen and involved in the pedestrian crash.
More than 130 pedestrian deaths
From 2005 to 2011, Mint Hill reported 41 pedestrian-involved accidents, according to N.C. Department of Transportation data. Charlotte, Huntersville, Matthews and Pineville all registered more.
In all, Mecklenburg County reported more than 3,500 pedestrian-involved wrecks during that time.
Of the pedestrians hit in Mint Hill, four suffered serious injuries and three died. The last pedestrian to die in Mint Hill was an 82-year-old man who was struck on N.C. 51 in December.
More than 130 pedestrians have died on Mecklenburg County roads from 2005 to 2011, data show.
Making Charlotte more walkable
In an effort to make Charlotte more walkable, the city updated its sidewalk policy last year and now allocates $7.5 million annually toward sidewalk projects. City Council member David Howard also noted that money for safety improvements comes from several different places, including state and federal money.
The city of Charlotte had $2.1 million from another road project to put toward sidewalk construction on West Tyvola Road, Eastway Drive, Carmel Road and Nevin Road, named as a high priority.
The February deaths of 5- and 1-year-old brothers on West Tyvola Road were the catalyst for sidewalk installation plans there, but the city also has eight programs in place for sidewalk projects. After every crash, the city conducts an investigation about what happened and ways to improve safety at that location, said Linda Durrett, a spokeswoman for the Charlotte Department of Transportation.
The city also has a list of 15 criteria to rank streets for sidewalk project priority, including average traffic, proximity to schools and parks and a roadway-related safety need.
An updated list of high-priority streets was not immediately available.
Howard said he doesnt know if Williamsons death will guarantee the installation of a sidewalk there. Nobody ever wants to ignore these things. Its a matter of priority and it may be a spot on the list for sure, but there are hundreds of others in the city as well, he said.
Durrett encouraged residents to tell the city where they want to see safety improvements.
Because Queen City Drive, where Williamson was hit, is characterized as a non-thoroughfare, someone would have to submit a petition to the city if they wanted a sidewalk built there.
Citizens can request any kind of improvement by filing a petition with CDOT, Durrett said, adding that a call to 311 will point people in the right direction. CDOT takes that all very seriously. We rely on citizens to help us determine whats important to them and what will work for their neighborhoods.
Staff researcher Maria David, data reporter Gavin Off and staff writer Steve Lyttle contributed.