Orange County

2 Chapel Hill pedestrians killed in two months on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard

Traffic along Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard near Homestead Road in northwest Chapel Hill passes a prominent sign flashing a message in 2014.
Traffic along Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard near Homestead Road in northwest Chapel Hill passes a prominent sign flashing a message in 2014.

A man fatally struck by a car Sunday night on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard has been identified as James Thomas Keeter Sr., 58, of Chapel Hill.

Keeter was the second pedestrian killed on the busy, north-south Chapel Hill thoroughfare in 2018.

On Jan. 16, Stephen Daniel Taylor, 56, of Chapel Hill, died as he was trying to cross the boulevard.

“We take every fatality seriously, and we are taking some steps, with the help of our community partners, to try to prevent this from happening again,” Police Chief Chris Blue said.

Police plan to increase their presence along the road, and the town plans to install temporary, digital signs on the boulevard that encourage safe traveling.

In addition, “Watch For Me N.C.”, a statewide pedestrian and bicycle safety program scheduled to take place Feb. 27 on South Columbia Street will now happen on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Keeter was hit at 8:30 p.m. Sunday in the northbound lane near Critz Drive close to his home.

He lived in the Ashley Forest Apartments on Ashley Forest Road less than a quarter mile away.

The incident is still under investigation, but police spokesman Ran Northam has said Keeter was not using a crosswalk.

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Watching for approaching outbound traffic, a morning jogger makes it halfway across the busy pedestrian crossing in the 1000 block of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard midday in Chapel Hill. Harry Lynch

Last month, Taylor was hit by a vehicle at 9:30 p.m. in a southbound lane of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard near Westminster Drive.

No charged were filed against the driver.

“The pedestrian was walking in the crosswalk, but had decided to cross against the light,” Northam said, meaning Taylor did not have the right of way. He also was wearing dark clothes.

Taylor was believed to be “a person experiencing homelessness,” Northam said.

Police and town staff are working with the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness Programs Coordinator Corey Root and others to distribute reflective wear for people who are homeless.

Safety tips from The Town of Chapel Hill

▪ Keep your eyes on the road – “always.”

▪ Looking down to text or reaching into the back seat takes a second, and that second is enough to distract a driver from what’s in front their moving vehicle.

▪ “Be bright at night: When walking or biking near a road, wear light-colored clothing and reflective gear, and when listening to music, leave one ear open to listen for traffic and other surrounding noises.

▪ Walk against the direction of traffic.

▪ Bike with the direction of traffic and stay as far right as is safely possible.

▪ Cross at designated crossings.

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks

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