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This is a deadly year for pedestrians in Charlotte. Here’s why.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police investigate the crash that killed Daniel Wheeler, 61, near his workplace early Monday.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police investigate the crash that killed Daniel Wheeler, 61, near his workplace early Monday.

Charlotte is on track to have significantly more pedestrian deaths in 2017 than in 2016. Twenty-four people have already died this year, many while trying to cross a street away from a crosswalk.

About 20 pedestrians were killed in all of 2016. To reverse the trend, drivers need to pay attention to their surroundings and pedestrians need to use crosswalks wherever possible, Sgt. David Sloan said Tuesday.

“Pedestrians are being struck all over the city,” he said.

Bus stops present a particular issue. Even when a crosswalk is nearby, Sloan said, people will try to cross mid-block after getting off the bus. Several people this year have died that way, so officers are spending more time at bus stops reminding people to walk down to intersections with crosswalks, Sloan said.

When traffic lights are too far apart for a pedestrian to feasibly walk to a crosswalk, Sloan urged drivers and pedestrians to make eye contact to confirm they’ve seen each other before the pedestrian starts to cross the road.

“Don’t expect they see you,” he said.

Sloan said the Charlotte Department of Transportation does “a heckuva job” tracking the city’s traffic and improving safety, but the city’s rapid growth can cause issues. For one thing, new development changes where pedestrians want to walk.

“Apartments are in the dead center of a block and instead of wanting to walk, you know, 50 yards that way or 50 yards this way, they all want to cross over to get to the businesses mid-block,” he said.

On blocks like that, the city sometimes adds pedestrian refuges – protected space where people can wait between lanes – or beacons that flash at the press of a button, much like regular crosswalks.

“They’re putting more and more in as the city grows,” Sloan said, and pedestrians should take advantage.

Sloan said he and his colleagues are working with high school and college students to encourage safety, and they’re also using plainclothes officers and unmarked cars to catch people texting or not wearing seatbelts.

Even a frosty windshield can result in a reckless driving charge, Sloan said. Police say that’s what contributed to a fatal crash Monday, when 54-year-old Grigory Kolesnik was charged with reckless driving and misdemeanor death by vehicle after striking Daniel Wheeler, 61.

Wheeler, a veteran and volunteer firefighter, was pronounced dead at the scene, a few hundred yards away from the southeast Charlotte McDonald’s where he worked. Like several recent victims, he wasn’t using a crosswalk.

Wheeler was the sixth pedestrian to die in a crash in Charlotte during the month of October, and the third in as many days.

Police are still looking for the car that struck Dandy Eugene Duncan, 46, on West Sugar Creek Road early Saturday. Duncan was trying to cross the road in his wheelchair, police said, and he wasn’t in a crosswalk. He died at the hospital hours later.

Police have yet to release a description of the car that hit Duncan, other than saying it has damage to its headlights.

Jane Wester: 704-358-5128, @janewester

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