Fatal accident raises safety concerns about busy stretch of road

by: Jeff Smith Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

Charlotte transportation engineers said they're waiting on a final police report before they can consider safety changes to a busy stretch of road where a man was hit and killed Thursday night.

Well-known homeless man William Larry Major -- better known around the city as Chilly Willy -- was trying to cross East 7th Street near Caswell Road in Elizabeth when a car hit him.

Almost one year ago, another person was hit and killed in the same spot while trying to cross the street after leaving Jackalope Jack's bar. A memorial for Autumn Soyka has stood on the sidewalk ever since.

Now, there are new flowers and mementos at the roadside memorial to honor the life of Chilly Willy.

Paramedics did their best to try to save Chilly Willy's life Thursday night. Eyewitness News has learned that just two hours earlier, paramedics were near the same spot responding to a bad car wreck involving four vehicles.

Eyewitness News dug through transportation reports, and discovered that East 7th Street in Elizabeth between Hawthorne and Caswell is one of the most dangerous stretches of road in the city.

In 2009, there were just nine car crashes at 7th and Hawthorne. In 2010, that number jumped to 15. Last year, there were 24 crashes.

"We don't want people to feel unsafe coming out here," said Anthony Cardone, the general manager of Kennedy's Bar and Grill.

About a hundred yards away, closer to 7th and Caswell, five pedestrians have been hit over the past two years by cars.

"Two people have died in less than one year at this particular spot right there," Cardone said. “It's not a well-lit area. All these trees definitely make it more darker, and just driving up and down myself, I know that you really gotta watch out."

In order to cross the street legally in front of Jackalope Jack's, pedestrians first need to walk up 7th Street for about a fifth of a mile. They then cross the crosswalk onto a separate island. Pedestrians must then wait again for the light to change so they can cross Pecan Avenue and walk safely onto the other side of the street.

"They're not going to go all the way up the street just to cross the street back down," said customer Mark Frank.

Over the past two years, CDOT has installed pedestrian signals, but safety engineers said there's no reason to put in another crosswalk.

The owner of Kennedy's Bar said he wants to petition City Councilwoman Patsy Kinsey to ask for more lighting and a new crosswalk.

Eyewitness News left several phone messages and emails with Kinsey, but they were not returned.