Buckley resident Kallie James pleaded guilty last month to vehicular homicide in the death of Puyallup pastor Eric Renz. But her real crime, Renz’s son said Friday in Pierce County Superior Court, was robbery.
“She robbed the world of a giver,” Christopher Renz told Judge Stanley Rumbaugh at James’ sentencing hearing. “She committed the biggest robbery of all — she took my dad.”
The price, James learned, was seven years in prison.
It was an emotional end to an emotional case.
Eric Renz, 66, was a beloved figure in the greater Puyallup area, a pastor who not only preached the tenets of Christianity but lived them.
He advocated for the homeless. He brought food to the hungry. He counseled the victims of domestic violence.
Renz had been ministering to people in the hours before James ran her car through a stop sign near the Washington State Fairgrounds on Nov. 24, 2014, and struck him as he pedaled his bicycle home. Renz died about two weeks later.
“He gave until the end,” his son said.
James, 19, told investigators she smoked marijuana earlier in the day. A blood draw later showed that she had 2.3 nanograms of active THC per liter of blood in her system four hours after the collision, deputy prosecutor Tim Jones said.
Her lawyer, James White, told Rumbaugh his client has a valid medical marijuana card and pointed out that if she’d been 21 at the time of the collision she would have been below the legal limit of 5 nanograms per liter.
But Jones said what happened to Renz was no accident: She smoked marijuana and then chose to drive.
“By the same token, this was not intentional,” Jones said in recommending a low-end sentence of six years, six months in prison.
Christopher Renz, who works as a prosecutor in Minnesota, then addressed Rumbaugh. He talked of his father’s decision to become a minister after returning from a tour of duty in the Vietnam War.
“He taught me about peace. He taught me about love. He taught me to respect every person,” Christopher Renz said. “He was an amazing man.”
Christopher Renz said he hopes James acquires wisdom in prison and becomes a person who “puts themselves before others.”
“It’s the only choice that would honor my dad,” he said.
White then pointed out that James has tremendous support from her family, friends and fellow inmates in the Pierce County Jail, who wrote more than 80 letters to the court extolling her loyalty and caring nature.
Her mother, Lori James, said outside court that her family feels terrible about the loss of Renz.
“We pray for his family and friends,” she said. “We get to have Kallie back. We understand what a blessing that is because they don’t get to have that.”
James also said her family is very proud of the “bravery” her daughter showed as the case proceeded through the criminal justice system.
Her daughter gave a tearful statement to Rumbaugh.
“I will always carry this heavy burden of guilt, regret and sorrow for what I have done,” she said.
Rumbaugh went last and added six months of time to the sentence recommended by White and Jones.
“In the end, it does boil down to your terrible choice to use drugs and drive,” the judge said.