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. Okay, so DUI is a serious concern. This woman will be held responsible for her actions. That is how it should be.

    So what’s the solution, Prohibitionists? Prohibition? If so, should tobacco also be outlawed? Fried chicken & French fries? Steak? Pork? Where do you draw the line?

  2. As with most human activities, groups of cyclists seem to often develop a “false confidence” during camaraderie of cycling. They will begin to assert themselves in traffic situations, and, of course, that is a very dangerous thing to do. I live in a largely rural area, but still dangerous. I was recently in a situation where I anticipated a person running a stop sign while I was following traffic in the left direction, so I braked and then the person realized what they had done and stopped in the lane to be traveled. What I didn’t realize was the person coming up behind me–who didn’t see me stopped for the other vehicle until I heard the screech of brakes. I thought, “ahh, this could be it… .” but luckily that person was on top of it, and when he can to a stop, was really not that close. But if he had been drinking, one more second may have resulted in a bad situation (I think it was a beast of a vehicle, like a ’73 Fury or simiar). Personally, I think all driving laws are too lenient. I try to drive my car like the 3,500 pound death machine it can be, and do not take it lightly. Beyond drinking, I usually don’t eat, text, and hold my dog (all at the same time), which I have seen several times as of late. I think all of these distraction are nearly as serious as driving while intoxicated.

  3. Continuing, I cannot even imagine hitting and running, especially if the person I hit landed on my hood and windshield then bounced to the ground…unless I was under the severe influence of something other than coffee. That has not happened to me for over 15 years, and seldom prior after my go round with the system and a DUI about 35 years ago. “Rarely” is still no excuse, then, and not applicable to my latest back slide. More likely I’d be shocked and stunned and driven to render what assistance I could. Running away is not in my genes, even temporarily…and I suspect that applies to almost all of us. The potential for taking a life is just too much to ignore.

    I take driving very seriously, requiring my full attention, to the point of being dogmatic on the topic….to the point that I never use the radio for anything by brief traffic and weather reports on an all news station (as I’ve mentioned before I believe). Even if Judi is driving me she knows to skip the radio. This town has aggressive drivers that would make NYC or DC drivers blush, and cringe.

    I’ve also decided I do NOT want the $130 blue tooth device for hands free use of my cell phone. Just too much hassle for me in my pedantic ways. My truck, rigged up for hauling 2-3 dogs at a time, does not have blue tooth capability built in…a much better plan from what I’ve noticed in Judi’s SRX crossover. Anyone wants the device, a blue tooth Motorola device, you are welcome to it (my email is in my profile) and I am serious, I’ll even pay the shipping.

    I dislike waste and I just wasted. For me, bad choice on my part and too much hassle for me to keep operable. If you live in a warm climate, it’d be perfect….charging is more reliable in the warm. Let’s just say I am very limited in the patience department and prefer the KISS principle for most endeavors. Driving especially …. if I miss a call or text I can always recover it and call back, even pull over to do so if convenient. THAT the iPhone does very simply and well.

  4. Occasionally, it happens in hit and run accidents where the suspect will return to the scene if only to just drive by and watch.

    She is looking at the possibility of significant jail time, having a prior DUI conviction with an aggravator (3 times legal BAC level) There is the possibility, depending on the collision investigation, she could be charged with vehicular homicide if recklessness is involved. I do not know if the circumstances amounted to this. A collision involving death and hit and run is a felony.

  5. I am hesitant to say it…but I am an alcoholic and I did back slide recently after 15+ years of both dry and sober. Had to “cold turkey” the resolution this time …just too much hassle otherwise…considering my other health issues, all also resolved positively as of yesterday’s follow up appointments….following the 30 day later post treatment CT scans. But I didn’t know that a while ago, cancer had returned and if you’ve had cancer you’ll know what I mean. So I temporarily copped out, no other way to say it, much to my own chagrin. It was a punk cop out.

    Needless to say I have little sympathy for this woman who once posted 0.27 BAL. What was it when she ran this guy down? Did I miss that figure? Even in my back slide I never, ever, got behind the wheel of a vehicle…not once…this time I kept it at home, mostly alone, which by itself isn’t exactly bright. I had one DUI in 1980 and that was 0.12 BAL…the shear torture of dealing with the social worker who ran the mandatory classes for us was enough to keep the keys in my pocket. Shudder. Had to agree with her just to “graduate” to probation. Her position was adamantly that alcoholism is a “social” thing…not once considering that two of us drank for the sole purpose of getting whacked and doing our thing, his as a biker and me as an Irish aggressive meat head.

  6. Full disclosure: That “essential employee” designation (virtually eliminated the voluntary aspect) nearly got me deployed to Afghanistan had I stuck around three more months…so, yeah, the timing of my retirement was self-serving in that regard. No joke.

  7. slohrss29 said …

    I was also cycling Saturday afternoon … The sun was very bright–and that is a problem for cyclists this time of year with the low sun angle.

    Dang…that time of day for cycling at this time of year is almost a death wish 🙂

    Never the less, even here in Detroit we are beginning to see delineated “bike paths” on main surface streets. Still a risky thing, but heading in the right direction…if we can also train the cyclists to obey traffic laws as vehicles must (they fail on that a lot here). I’d like the idea of a fenced/barricaded pathway with dedicated traffic lights if we could afford it (we cannot at present)…maybe in time. I drove to work in the federal building for a couple decades (7.1 miles)…but I’d rather have ridden a good bicycle….and it would have improved my fitness to boot….and saved me about $8.00 to $10 per day for parking. 251 “work days” (not counting those demanded [ up to 365] by that dang “essential employee” tag on my position description) times $8.00 to $10.00 times 20 years is hardly chump change….might have bought me a nice Corvette or with some other savings added , a Maseratti Quadroporte! 🙂 For weekend use of course.

  8. There are cities that are heaven for bicycles. Victoria BC is one of them. Living there in my twenties for almost eight years I used a ten speed only. If I needed a car, I rented or borrowed one, perhaps once a month. I could go anywhere in the city a dozen different ways. There are enough hills to make it a good workout but you don’t need to take them. Often I added an hour and took Beach Drive along the ocean. Between my bike and the bus it was a time of incredible freedom, and cheap. I also outran a motorcycle cop once and evaded a cruiser another time using one way streets. But most of the time I was responsible and carbon free.

  9. @ Olly

    My area is actually a mecca for recreational cyclists. The rural back roads are quite lovely, curving, hilly but not mountainous and very light on traffic. Even though the shoulder room is minimal at best, the cycling is actually pretty safe for the riders due to the slow nature of the traffic. Half the time we are already watching out and driving slow, not only for cyclists but also tractors, harrow beds and cattle drives in middle of the back roadways.

    People come from many many miles to participate in an annual Century Bike Ride. They go on a 100 mile route and thelocal community clubs really get into it by setting up rest and watering stops for the participants and other events to entertain the bike tourists….an us as well. Anything for a party!!! Like a street festival with bbqs, chili cook offs, wine tasting and live music the night before the Century. Lots of fun.

    That being said. Cycling for anything but recreational use is not going to happen here. Too far. Too cold. Too dangerous on the main roads.

  10. DBQ,
    I have lived in San Diego County for 35 years and know first-hand how difficult it is for those wanting to commute or sport via cycle. I used to commute from Spring Valley to Coronado when I was stationed at the Amphibious Base. Cycling the full route was a possible but dangerous. I ended up driving to a mate’s home in west Chula Vista and then cycled the rest of the way. Hwy 56 did it right when they built a fenced bike path at the same time they put in the highway. Hwy 76 has been undergoing major construction between the 5 and 15 (25 miles) and they’ve not done anything more than paint a white line for cyclists. I-5 and 15 have areas where cyclists need to use the vehicle ramps and shoulder to get from one area to another. Most inland communities are within 30 miles of the coast and yet most people have to drive their bike over if they want a “safe” ride.

    When I lived in San Pedro, it was impossible to cycle to the naval base in Long Beach although the trip was less than 10 miles. I would however cycle over to the beach.

    We can do better and yes, my car is very important to me.

  11. Olly, the downtown area of Madison being a isthmus, there is the maze you remember, simply because of topography. But, bike paths and bike lanes are now ubiquitous. The big push started back in the 90’s. I agree 100% about San Diego being prime. I love how bikes, walkers, roller blades and skateboarders function on the boardwalk in Mission Beach. It can get a bit crowded @ the Pacific Beach end, but it’s quite civil. That said, I am there in the offseason, I’m sure the tenor is different in the summer. The path along the lake shore in Chicago is much less civil. The main reason are the bikers, they all think they’re competing in the Tour de France. Most of the bikes on the Mission boardwalk are just beach cruisers, w/ a few serious bikers. I see big Bill Walton riding his ten speed every Monday evening. He’s pretty easy to pick out! A very nice man. I can see a politician making a push for bikes in San Diego. I have not seen the rent a bike stations we have in Madison and I’ve seen in Chicago, NYC, and other cities. That would be a big hit in San Diego. People are civilized there. The bikes and bike stations tend to get vandalized in less civilized cities.

  12. If any location would be prime for the infrastructure to support a cycling culture, this is it. Sadly, southern Californians just love their cars.

    Cycling culture is supported in ‘some’ areas. Small, inner city urban areas where the distances between locations is not huge and where there is a safe location to store your bike are good for bike commuting. College towns are good for biking as well…….. OR….scenic roads that do not have a lot of traffic and are nice for recreational bike trips.

    Nothing sad about loving our cars……it is practical. The reason that southern Californians….in fact almost all Californians do not immerse themselves in the bike culture is due to the great distances that must be traveled for commuting. It is not unusual to travel 50 to 70 miles ONE direction daily. Other than taking a lot of winding roads through some less than desirable neighborhoods the straightest and most efficient trip is on a major highway or freeway.

    Trust me. You do not want to bike commute through some LA or even San Diego communities. Even, shielded in your car, it is pretty dicey.

  13. Nick,
    If I recall correctly from my days visiting my sister at school in Madison (70’s); driving anywhere near the capital was like a maze of one-way streets. On another note; I know you’ve spent quite a bit of time in the San Diego area. If any location would be prime for the infrastructure to support a cycling culture, this is it. Sadly, southern Californians just love their cars.

  14. slohrrs, You would love Madison. Bicyclists are treated like royalty. They’re trying to be the US version of Amsterdam. It’s a bit too much IMO. But, if I were a bicyclist I would not think so.

  15. Bailers, While I agree w/ you about the first DUI, the state of Wi. treats the first DUI as a CIVIL violation! Stats do show the carnage is in large part done by the incorrigible multiple offenders. You are absolutely correct, the first DUI, in most instances, is a wake up call. Here’s a related topic. Calling a cab is what many need to do. And, although not difficult, when you’re drunk any inconvenience can be difficult. Car services like Uber change that. An app on your phone and an account w/ Uber makes it SIMPLE. One click, Uber finds where you are and respond QUICKLY AND CHEAPLY. Taxi companies, in bed w/ politicians, are fighting car services. Uber got bad publicity in India when one of their drivers raped a woman. Gee, I wonder if a taxi driver has ever done that??

  16. I was also cycling Saturday afternoon in Maryland and PA. The sun was very bright–and that is a problem for cyclists this time of year with the low sun angle. I ended up getting back slightly after 4:00 PM, which is a very bad time–the sun is at it’s lowest, and it has hard to not be momentarily blinded from minute to minute. I had several incidences with vehicles, but experience tells me to look ahead for those situations. This is a case where driving is hard enough, and the slightest impairment may be too much. The cyclist could have easily been a pedestrian on a stroll. MD has some new laws to protect cyclists, and I hope they find her in serious breach of those laws as well. I will try to follow this and see how it resolves.

  17. Paul H Lemmen, While I totally disagree w/ you about a woman being bishop being “an abomination” I respect your right to say that. There was a time, a year or so ago, when you would have been shouted down and run outta here, the intolerants thumping their chests. I’m familiar w/ your mindset, having that in some family members. It has made for some interesting Thanksgiving and vacation discussions! But, we love each other in spite of our differences. That is the way it’s supposed to be. Hopefully, we can agree on that.

  18. “DUI is a huge problem especially for those whose world view and lack of personal responsibility makes them feeel superior to everyone else.”

    I bet if you asked “those” invested in this “selfie” culture if humility was a virtue or a vice they would either a) not know the difference or b) choose the latter. Then again, I can see some choosing the former and be proud they have none of it.

    Big problem indeed!

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