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. Janet Brown …. in Michigan when I was a kid the law was for bicyclists to ride against traffic, which made sense. Being able to clearly see your road mates who outweighed you by a ton or more and moved a much faster speeds seemed sane to me. At the time I rode all over Detroit on my bicycle. The law changed somewhere between then and now….likely formulated by some desk jockey in Lansing who never set foot on a pedal. The argument, of course, was that bicyclists had to follow the same road laws as vehicles (as if they do!) , so they should travel in the dame direction. I’ve yet to set a fervent cyclist ticketed for running a red light or stop sign. What’s up with that?

  2. How about riding your bike AGAINST traffic. You would see the traffic and conditions before you got completely mowed down, have you ever looked up why there is such a law as riding with traffic. Makes no sense to me. How many lives have been needlessly lost due to this ignorant law,,,,

  3. Father Morrissey, Thanks for commenting. I comment on a Catholic priests blog and have tried to recruit him here. We need clergy here since we often discuss religion. I hope you wade into our pool here and find it comfortable to comment.

  4. As a 21+ yr in service Episcopal priest preceded by 21 yrs as a Naval Officer, I never cease to be amazed at our Church’s selection process. Now we have a dead father and devastated family at the feet of a bishop with a history of reckless—dangerous!—behavior. I have to wonder how many other uncited instances are there? One does not get to a .27 BAL and in possession of drug stuff without “practice.” She was consecrated bishop 4 months ago? It takes almost 2 yrs from the decision to elect a bishop to the installation and includes a mental health consult. The previous major infraction was 2010?

    Someone fascetiouly mentioned a “prison ministry”. Actually, this bishop should be completely defrocked. Even then she will receive her pension and health benefits for the rest of her life. The dead father’s family?

    The Church preaches confession, forgiveness and reconciliation. However, we still must endure the consequences of our actions. BTW, she was elected by an assembled body (clergy and lay people) of her diocese and the election ratified by 50%+ of the dioceses (governing bodies and diocesan bishops) in the Episcopal Church. A system failed. Sometimes I think the final step in the selection process used to replace Judas would have better success. And, it’s Biblically based.

  5. OIly: “Maybe God determined this incident will finally be the one to generate enough momentum to make a difference.”

    Why do you think it was God who intervened? Did you ever consider that it was Sin and Evil that led Cook to drink, drive, kill someone and flee the scene?

  6. Thanks Bill, my post was really me just being naive again. I forget the whole thing is really for perpetuating revenue along with human management. We could really streamline life to reward original thinking and hard work instead of creating industry of “busyness” as law and accounting have become.

  7. I can’t believe the church anointed this woman after marijuana and booze were found in her car in 2010! Poor choice. Stupid

  8. “Rich people” are busted all the time, as are politicians. The Attorney General of Wisconsin was busted and refused a breathalyzer. The dash camera tape is priceless. It cost her a career in politics. Now, I’m sure some influential people get passes, but there are way too many GREAT booking photos of famous people busted for DUI to make me think it’s commonplace for “rich people” to get passes. I’ll tell you who are maybe the folks who get passes more than any, and that’s fellow cops.

  9. slohrss29

    Good idea: let’s use common sense when it comes to illegal substances. If you’ve been around these parts for very long, then you know that I’ve long promoted the notion of accountable personal responsibility rather than the present DUI laws currently on the books. Laws which mainly exist as welfare schemes for numerous special interest groups like LEO, lawyers, the jail/prison industrial complex etc.

    I would support your 20 year mandatory idea, but there would have to escape clauses in it to have any chance of passing. The sheriff here would still be allowed to bust rich people for DUI, but laws are written like a spider web: mainly to catch/trap only little bugs, not the big ones.

    Even Nick “Not The Greek” would likely agree. We’ll see.

  10. slohrrs, Yes indeed. Trek bicycle is in nearby Waterloo, Wi. I have been driving by their plant since the 80’s and seen it grow exponentially. They make bikes for US Presidents. I think the rent a bikes in Madison are Trek.

    Regarding sentencing guidelines for DUI. Many people always look @ Europe as the ideal, often wrongly. But, DUI in Europe is much tougher. I think most every country has .05 as the limit, and .02 for inexperienced drivers. The penalties are tough and get much tougher w/ higher BAC and repeat offenders.

  11. Ari, I can’t tell you how impressed I am w/ your openness. I have a family member who suffers from depression and panic attacks. She is open and honest, like you. That is SO therapeutic. It takes true self esteem and courage. Kudos, my friend.

  12. Accident reconstruction via the internet! Northwestern University has a great accident reconstruction class. Years back I considered taking it, but just didn’t have the time. I bet you can take it online now. Of course, they are no longer called accidents, they are called crashes or collisions.

  13. No one here has suggested, or even intimated, prohibition! Where does that come from?

  14. I looked at the collision scene using Google Street View. Here are a few observations.

    This collision is going to require some time to investigate whether or not this collision amounted to a vehicular homicide or a traffic violation involving a collision. (beyond the hit and run)

    The roadway is a four lane median divided arterial having a standard bicycle lane and a parking zone. The posted speed limit is 35 mph. (as of the street view photograph times)

    The windshield damage indicates a collision to the right side of the vehicle. Assuming the vehicle is travelling in the proper direction it would be expected for a collision involving a vehicle and a bike lane travelling bicycle. However, this is not conclusive from the photographs as the front of the vehicle is not fully available for inspection. There is no conclusive evidence from what information I have here that the bicyclist was in the bike lane, the parking lane or travelled portion.

    Having a speed limit of 35 mph, it is going to require collision reconstruction to determine if excessive speed was a factor. The amount of damage to the windshield is consistent with a higher speed striking of a body. Analysis will be required to estimate how far, if any, the speed was beyond the posted speed limit and if such speed in itself constituted reckless driving or negligent driving if these are a required element of the vehicular homicide crime.

    The positioning of the collision will be a significant factor in determining degree of negligence or if the bicyclist caused the accident for reason of failure to yield to the oncoming vehicle, which is a possibility but a less likely one than the Subaru’s position being improper.

    I don’t think alcohol or drug impairment is indicated because had there been evidence of this when the police talked with the accused immediately after the collision, they would have taken her into custody to perform drug and/or alcohol testing which of course evidence of such degrades through the metabolic process over time. Alcohol or drug impairment is a large determinate element of vehicular homicide.

  15. Nick, Madison is a beautiful area. My wife’s relatives live in Pewaukee, and I have had the opportunity to spend some time there. There is also a good bit of cycling industry up there, so that helps lead the interest. It’s surprising that there aren’t more specific cycling laws there. In Maryland now, there is a law that requires motorists to give a certain amount of space while passing a cyclist.
    A thought about Bill’s post. My personal idea is that laws just may be too specific. I kind of think DUI and DWI came out of the 60s when it became common to have an excuse for law breaking. Maybe laws that are written to highlight more responsibility would better serve everyone. People need to feel ultimately responsible for their actions when they drive and should put forth the proper respect for their vehicle and other motorists and pedestrians. Instead of worrying about a DUI, if you hit and killed a pedestrian or cyclist–whatever your condition–and it was a mandatory 20-year prison sentence, no questions asked, people may think differently.
    That is good common sense Sandi. In this case, the cyclist was apparently hit in a bike lane. But I don’t trust those either…

  16. This was so egregious to me personally, that she did not at least stop to render prayers for the dying (and why was that? alcohol on your breath much?) that I was beyond belief shaken-up and frankly, disgusted — and they wonder why people don’t want to be in the institutional church anymore ;- Anyway … this is still very upsetting for me so I just can’t read the comments for fear of slapping someone, but I did want to thank you Mr. Turley for posting this!

  17. Unless you are riding a bike to get to work or school, don’t ride on tight, congested roads. There are lots of specific places for bikes. We’ve spent fortunes creating them. Use them!

  18. Why do we identify her as “the first female…” Who cares. I wish we’d quit doing it. And the new bus driver on route 621 “is our first black lesbian cancer survivor to drive this route.”

    She killed a man, broke the law by leaving the scene. She goes to jail. I think God would agree.

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