Heather Cook, Maryland’s First Female Bishop, Accused of Fatal Hit-and-Run

244F92AB00000578-2889726-Tragic_Maryland_s_first_female_bishop_58_year_old_Heather_Cook_c-m-5_1419843198355244FA2C300000578-0-image-m-7_1419834114326The second highest Episcopal minister in Maryland, Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook, is under fire for an alleged fatal hit-and-run. Cook hit bicyclist Tom Palermo, 41, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, and left the father of two young children dying of a head wound on the side of the road. She returned 20 minutes later.

In a Sunday email, Bishop Eugene Sutton told priests that Cook left the scene of Saturday’s accident, but returned about 20 minutes later “to take responsibility for her actions.” However, Sutton said that Cook was on administrative leave “because the nature of the accident could result in criminal charges.”

Moncure Lyon, 65, of Baltimore, said that he tried to help Palermo and then went looking for the car. He said that a Subaru drove by with a broken windshield and he jumped on his bike to follow it. Lyon, 65, caught up with it at a stoplight and continued to follow as the car entered a nearby gated apartment community.

Four years ago, Cook was involved in a DUI. Police reported that Cook was found driving on the shoulder of the road at 29 miles an hour in a 50 mph zone with a shredded front tire. After smelling alcohol, the officer proceeded to give a road sobriety test but stopped because Cook was so drunk that there was a fear that she would hurt herself just doing the sobriety test. She later registered a .27 blood alcohol reading (the legal limit is .08). In the car, the police found found two small bags of marijuana in the vehicle, along with paraphernalia, and a bottle of wine and a bottle of liquor.

Cook pleaded to the DUI and, in exchange, the pot charge was dropped. (She disclosed the charges when she interviewed for the bishop position).

The fact that Cook returned after being approached by a witness would seem a material factor in judging whether she was fleeing. However, we have seen considerable variation in how hit-and-runs are addressed, particularly in a couple of cases involving police officers (here and here) and a recent case involving a leading college football player. Some of these cases involved the culprits eventually returning to the scene, but there remained criticism over the failure to charge for leaving the scene in the first place. Cook’s case raises such a question as to whether she decided to return after being confronted by a witness. The facts remain somewhat fluid and we will likely learn more in the coming days. With the shattered windshield, there is also the possible claim of being disoriented. Police have not said at the time of this posting whether alcohol or drugs were involved or whether Cook was given a sobriety test.

HT_bishop_hit_and_run_sk_141229_16x9_992Cook’s father was the rector of Old St. Paul’s. She attended St. Paul’s School for Girls and earned a master’s degree in divinity in 1987 from the General Theological Seminary in New York City in 1987. Last September, she became Maryland’s bishop suffragan — the No. 2 leader of the diocese. Her selection gave Cook a certain celebrity status inside and outside of the church — a symbol for many of the breaking of a glass ceiling for women ministers.

244FD48B00000578-0-image-m-23_1419834764024The fatal accident has been devastating for Palermo’s family, leaving two young children without a father. He was an avid bicyclist and a memorial bike ride is being planned by his many friends and family to celebrate his life.

The family will of course have the option of a civil lawsuit for wrongful death based on theories of negligence. Depending on the state, the statute of limitations is usually 1 or 2 years to file. That allows for the completion of criminal investigatory steps and a possible criminal charge, which can yield valuable discovery. However, such evidence can also lead to defense theories of comparative negligence based on where the bicyclist was in the road and other factors.

69 thoughts on “Heather Cook, Maryland’s First Female Bishop, Accused of Fatal Hit-and-Run”

  1. I have no sympathy for DUI or its drivers. The first DUI might be a mistake and deserves a firm but fair sentence. The second is a pattern and deserves harsh punishment.

  2. DUI is a huge problem especially for those whose world view and lack of personal responsibility makes them feeel superior to everyone else.
    The other sad fact overlooked is that the facts of female and Bishop are mutually exclusive. This alone is an abomination and heresy and embracing such is also heresy.

  3. I am always amazed at the selective forgiveness of certain sects. She disclosed a .27 DUI when interviewed to be Bishop and then got the job. Driving while under the influence is, for the most part, done with alcohol blood levels of .1 to .15, by people who think they are just under or won’t show up on any visual radar. These people get caught and typically take the message seriously. In our society that dams any DUI, the conviction follows them for life, regardless of how they perform after.

    However, a blood alcohol level of .27, not noticing a shredded tire, driving on the side of the road, too drunk to do a field sobriety test, etc, is the polar opposite of driving home after ‘happy hour’ instead of taking a cab. This person needed society to intervene. Instead she got the job as Bishop, further cementing a relationship with forgiveness and understanding, and took her place up there a little higher and more privileged than the rest.

    Sounds like any other government circle. Do as I say, not as I do.

  4. I’m checking to see if Cook has a facebook page. And see if she made any comments about putting “wings” on someone. Glory be.

  5. A clergy, I forget what denomination, had a drunken fatality in the Madison are recently. DUI is a problem this country has not taken seriously. Some states have tougher laws than others. Wi. has the least tough in the nation. The reason is simple, the liquor lobby. Cheeseheads take a perverse pride their alcoholic culture like Chicagoans do in their corrupt culture. It may have happened, but I don’t remember a Presidential candidate ever talking about this. Now, this is a state issue. But, we have to have a nationwide effort to confront this. This country needs an intervention. But, the liquor lobby scares politicians. And, don’t kid yourself, the attorney lobby likes DUI’s as well. Two VERY formidable lobby groups.

    Regarding clergy and DUI’s. There are NO professions exempt from alcoholism. Attorneys are way up there on the scale. Although, having worked w/ attorneys for 4 decades, it’s not as bad as it was in the 70’s. They were like the Mad Men culture back then..big smokers as well. The 2 tend to go hand in hand.

  6. The Episcopal Church has suffered a serious decline.

    The denomination has shrunk from a high of 3.6 million in the mid-1960s to 1.8 million now. Attendance plummeted to 640,000.
    Episcopal marriages declined 45 percent.
    Infant baptisms fell 40 percent from 2002 to 2012.
    Adult baptisms have almost been cut in half since 2002.

    New York City’s “Church Center,” the national Episcopal headquarters, is up for sale.

    Cross-dressing clergy and same-sex marriage: the meltdown of liberal Christianity.

    Hit and run is a good metaphor for the Episcopal church.

  7. doglover,
    Great question and one that is commonly asked by those with a faith in God.

    Maybe God intervened 4 years ago with a shredded tire and decided a different intervention was necessary. Maybe God determined this incident will finally be the one to generate enough momentum to make a difference, as Paul noted above.

    The answer may be as simple as one person asking “why God…?”

  8. “The fact that Cook returned after being approached by a witness would seem a material factor in judging whether she was fleeing.”

    I beg your pardon? Do you mean the fact she bounced a 41 year old father of two off her windshield and chose leaving the scene rather than staying to render aid or LAST RIGHTS is not material enough? WTF?

  9. We lost the Catholic Bishop of Phoenix over a hit-and-run. Only fair that some other religion get their turn.

  10. Why has their god neither controlled nor protected those who claim to be closest to him?

  11. Until we take DUI seriously, this will continue to be routine news. Another person that should not be driving killed a person. Wake up, When will we take DUI serious? While the facts of this case have not been sorted out, her prior conviction at a level of .27 shows not a minor infraction, but a serious life threatening inability to live in a manner that is safe for the rest of us. DUI kills, it is not a fear that my glass of wine with dinner will have me loose my license. DUI KILLS.

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