CRESTWOOD — Surveillance video from a suburban St. Louis Starbucks captures how the life of Roger Kreutz changed in an instant.
He stands in line behind a young man and woman, dressed casually, at a Starbucks where he’s a regular. The young man fiddles with some items for sale at the counter while the woman orders a coffee drink, pays and heads out the door with her beverage. The young man swipes the tip jar, and Kreutz, in the spur of the moment, gives chase.
What’s not caught on tape is what happened next. Police say the two suspects, with the young man behind the wheel of a 1990s white Ford Taurus, ran over the Good Samaritan in the parking lot.
The incident on Monday left Kreutz, 54, badly injured. He died early Wednesday at a hospital.
“I don’t claim to understand it,” Crestwood Police Chief Mike Paillou said at a news conference. While detectives are already following up on leads, he asked for the public’s help in identifying the suspects. But he did not know what drove them — “fear, confusion, being young?”
It’s thought there was about $5 in the tip jar.
Family members weren’t surprised Kreutz went after the thieves.
“He was just caring, loving, witty and extremely loyal,” said his youngest brother, Chris Kreutz, 42. “That’s how my brother is. I would have done the same thing.”
The Kreutz family owns the Holiday Inn and Viking Conference Center down the street from the Starbucks in southwest St. Louis County. Kreutz was the oldest of five brothers, and he and Chris lived in separate, converted rooms inside the hotel.
Roger often worked early and late hours and took time in the afternoon to work out with his brother, Chris said. Their habit was to pick up drinks at Starbucks — iced lattes in the afternoon. Chris said he usually drank his in advance of his workout. His older, responsible brother waited until after he exercised, he said.
On Monday, he couldn’t figure what was keeping his brother, who had gone out for the drinks. That’s when he was called to the hospital.
Their father, Edward Kreutz Sr., was vacationing in Florida and hurried back, fighting through Tuesday’s snow storm to get here. His son was in a coma, but the father had a chance to be with him before he died.
“I kind of feel he kept alive so I could get back to see him,” the father said.
Chris Kreutz said those who ran over his brother should do the right thing and turn themselves in.
In the Crestwood community, there was disbelief.
Nate Van Laere, co-owner of a Panchero’s Mexican Grill restaurant in the same shopping plaza as the Starbucks, called the events “a fluke incident and a real tragedy.”
“It just doesn’t make any sense, and hopefully they’ll get prosecuted,” he said.
Seattle-based Starbucks, in a statement, said Kreutz “was a longtime regular Starbucks customer whose daily presence will be sorely missed by the many Starbucks partners who knew him.”
At the Starbucks, a single rose, with a note offering prayers, stood in a vase on the coffee shop counter. Employees declined comment.
A $20,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the conviction of the suspects. Starbucks contributed $10,000, and an anonymous donor the other $10,000.
Paillou said he does not recommend the public become involved when a crime is taking place. “The best thing any citizen can do when faced with a crime is be a good witness,” he said.
Police describe the male suspect as 5 feet 10 inches to 6 feet 1 inch tall and between 17 and 20 years old, with brown hair that falls over his ears. The young woman, who wears a Led Zeppelin shirt in the surveillance video, is 16 to 19 years old with blond, shoulder-length hair.
The Taurus did not have a front license plate, police said. Those with information can call 866-371-8477.