Buckley woman faces upgraded charge in traffic death of Puyallup activist

A 19-year-old Buckley woman pleaded not guilty Tuesday to an upgraded charge of vehicular homicide in the death of a Puyallup community activist who ran for the state House earlier this year.

Kallie James had been charged with vehicular assault for allegedly running a stop sign in her car Nov. 24 and hitting Eric Renz as he bicycled near the Washington State Fairgrounds.

Prosecutors increased the charge after Renz, 66, died of his injuries last week.

James appeared in Pierce County Superior Court on Tuesday to be re-arraigned. Judge Frank Cuthbertson allowed her to remain free pending trial on previously posted $250,000 bail.

James admitted to taking an anti-depressant and smoking marijuana before getting behind the wheel, court records show.

An investigator called to the scene determined James was “impaired and unable to operate a motor vehicle safely,” the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office said in a news release.

Blood samples were taken from James and sent to the Washington State Patrol’s toxicology lab for analysis. The results are pending.

Renz for decades had served as a pastor in Presbyterian churches throughout the area and was active in the Freezing Nights campaign in which Puyallup-area churches provide shelter and meal to homeless people during cold weather.

In November, he ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Republican state Rep. Hans Zeiger.

James is a Pierce County native described as a caring young woman by dozens of friends and relatives who submitted letters to Cuthbertson asking him not to increase her bail.

“Kallie did not intend to harm anyone,” her mother, Lori James, wrote.

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