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High-ranking Maryland Episcopal bishop involved in bicycle crash has DUI record

Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook

From left, Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton, newly ordained Maryland Suffragan Bishop Heather Cook, and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori following the Sept. 6 ordination and consecration service. Photo: Richard Schori

The high-ranking Episcopal bishop involved in a fatal bicycle crash in North Roland Park Saturday also pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol in 2010, court records show.

Bishop Suffragan Heather Elizabeth Cook, the second-highest ranked official in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and the first woman bishop in the state, has not been charged in Saturday’s fatal crash. Thomas Palermo, 41, was pronounced dead at a hospital after the crash, which happened around 2:30 p.m. in the 5700 block of Roland Ave, which is just south of Lake Avenue. He lived in Anneslie, just over the line in Baltimore County.

Police said the driver fled the scene, then returned 20 minutes later. Police have declined to identify the driver except to say she was a 58-year-old woman. Episcopal Diocese of Maryland Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton said Cook was the driver in an email to clergy members Sunday.

Cook was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and with possession of marijuana and paraphernalia in Caroline County in September 2010, records show. She received probation before judgment and the marijuana possession and paraphernalia charges were dropped. Her probation was supervised, records show.

A 2010 Eastern Shore news report, using information from a Caroline County Sheriff’s Department news release, said Cook was arrested her after her blood alcohol level registered at .27, more than three times the legal limit in Maryland. A nearly empty bottle of whiskey was found in the car, along with a metal smoking device, according to the news report from myeasternshoremd.com.

Attorney David Irwin confirmed that he was representing Cook but said it was too soon for him to offer any comment on her behalf. “We’re still evaluating,” he said. He said he was aware of her prior record in Caroline County.

Local bike groups were considering ways to respond to the accident. “Bike Maryland has been coordinating with bike groups around the region to discuss how we are going to support the family and respond to this incident,” said Nate Evans, executive director of Bike Maryland.

Evans said he was surprised that Palermo had been hit in that section of Roland Avenue, a popular route for cyclists and where the road is fairly wide. “Tom was an experienced bicyclist. The quality of the bike lanes are good there. It would be the safest place for him to be,” Evans said.

Bishop Suffragan of Maryland Heather Cook celebrates the Eucharist during her service of ordination and consecration to the episcopate.

Bishop Suffragan of Maryland Heather Cook celebrates the Eucharist during her service of ordination and consecration to the episcopate.

“This person left the scene without regard for human life. It is incomprehensible that we would have someone left dying on the roadside,” Evans said. Bike advocates, he said, would like more aggressive prosecution of cases where cyclists are hit.

Local bike advocacy groups said they had lobbied for a bike lane with a barrier and for a reduced speed limit on that stretch of road during an ongoing road resurfacing project, but were unsuccessful.

“We don’t know if it could have prevented something like this but it would have been safer,” Bikemore president Jed Weeks said.

Evans said bike groups will be asking the Department of Transportation to revisit the issue of constructing barriers along the route.

Sutton said Cook has been placed on administrative leave “because the nature of the accident could result in criminal charges.”

“Several news agencies have reported this as a ‘hit and run.’ Bishop Cook did leave the scene initially, but returned after about 20 minutes to take responsibility for her actions,” Sutton wrote.

“Together with the Diocese of Maryland, I express my deep sorrow over the death of the cyclist and offer my condolences to the victim’s family,” Sutton wrote. “Please pray for Mr. Palermo, his family and Bishop Cook during this most difficult time.”

-Baltimore Sun

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