Eric Renz rode up to a Puyallup coffee shop in September on his bicycle, groceries in hand, ready to talk about how to help the community.
In his pre-election interview with The News Tribune that day, the state House candidate called himself a “communitarian” who dedicated his life to improving the lives of the less fortunate.
Those close to him say that was always his way.
The same community he was known for helping returned the favor in the past two weeks, rallying around Renz as he fought for his life.
That fight ended Tuesday night when Renz, 66, was taken off life support at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma. He died of injuries suffered when he was hit on his bicycle by an allegedly impaired driver Nov. 24 near the Washington State Fairgrounds.
Pierce County deputy prosecutor Tim Jones said Wednesday that Kallie James, the woman charged with hitting Renz, will be called into court next week to answer an upgraded charge of vehicular homicide. James, 19, originally was charged with vehicular assault. She's pleaded not guilty to that count and is free after posting $250,000 bail, court records show.
Kathy Turner, Renz’s friend and a former Puyallup mayor, said the community is struggling to understand his death.
“You have to ask yourself ‘Why?’ ” she said. “This was such an unnecessary event.”
Renz was an avid bicyclist and Vietnam combat veteran. He spent 30 years as a pastor in Presbyterian churches, most recently as a parish associate at the First Presbyterian Church of Puyallup.
He also was heavily involved with the Freezing Nights campaign in which Puyallup area churches provide emergency shelter and meals to the homeless during cold months.
“Everyone who gets shelter from that program had been praying for Eric,” said Ed Herde, friend and chairman of the 25th Legislative District Democrats.
Herde helped Renz with his legislative campaign this year against Republican incumbent Hans Zeiger, who won re-election in November. Zeiger said he considered Renz a friend and a brother in Christ. He added that their relationship transcended the political rivalry, which was civil.
“Eric is one of the kindest, most compassionate, most cheerful men I have known,” Zeiger said in an email Wednesday. “I learned a lot from Eric this year.”
Herde said Wednesday it’s difficult to put into words the effect Renz had on the community.
“He was a tireless worker for people who were down on their luck,” he said. “Even if you weren’t helped directly, you were helped because he made this a better place.”
Turner, who said Renz renewed her and her husband’s wedding vows around this time 13 years ago, said Puyallup was fortunate to be touched by her friend’s compassion.
“We’re the lucky ones because we knew him,” she said. “He was a kind soul that was taken from this earth way too early.”
Services for Renz are tentatively planned for January.
He is survived by two sons and a daughter.
Staff writer Adam Lynn contributed to this report.