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Tuesday, October 24, 2023

The Bishop Heather Cook Fatal Hit-And-Run Case

     Born in Syracuse, New York and raised in Baltimore, 30-year-old Heather Cook became an ordained minister in the Maryland Diocese of the Episcopal Church in 1987. Over the next several years she worked in Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania and on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

     On September 10, 2010, while serving as Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Easton, Maryland in Caroline County, a police officer pulled Heather Cook over when he saw her driving on a shredded tire. Reeking of alcohol with vomit on her shirt, she appeared highly intoxicated. In her vehicle the officer found an empty whiskey bottle, a quantity of marijuana and a marijuana pipe. Cook, whose blood-alcohol level registered at three times the legal limit, admitted that besides consuming too much alcohol she had smoked pot.

     A Carolina County prosecutor charged the Episcopal minister with driving under the influence, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. Cook pleaded guilty to DUI and in return the prosecutor dropped the drug related charges. The judge sentenced Heather Cook to supervised probation.

      The Episcopal minister, notwithstanding her problem with booze, drugs and the law, did not lose her job. Officials of the Maryland Diocese decided to give their wayward cleric a second chance. It was, after all, the Christian thing to do. (Had she been a cop, a lawyer or a UPS driver she would have been out the door.)

     In September 2014 officials in the church elected the 58-year-old cleric to the position of Bishop, making her the first female bishop of the Episcopal Church of Maryland. She became in the diocese's hierarchy the number two authority. This may not have been the church's wisest decision.

     On Saturday at two-thirty in the afternoon of December 27, 2014, while driving her green Subaru Forester station wagon on North Roland Park Road in northern Baltimore, Bishop Cook ran into a man riding a bicycle. Instead of pulling over and rendering aid the Bishop violated the laws of man and God by driving off.
     Paramedics rushed 41-year-old Tom Palermo, a man with a wife and two children, to a nearby hospital. Shortly upon arrival at the medical center Mr. Palermo died.

     According to local media reports of the hit-and-run incident, Bishop Cook, twenty minutes after the accident returned to the site of the fatal collision "to take responsibility for her actions." The authorities, however, did not take her into custody or charge her with a crime.
 
     Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton of the Maryland Diocese, on December 30, 2014, announced that the church had placed Bishop Cook on administrative leave due to the possibility that criminal charges could be filed in the case.

     In speaking to reporters an eyewitness to the accident said Bishop Cook waited 45 minutes before returning to the scene. According to the witness, "She pulled up with a busted windshield and got out of the car. The police talked to her and put her in the back of the patrol car."

     On January 9, 2015 Bishop Cook turned herself into the authorities after being charged with felony vehicular manslaughter, criminal negligent manslaughter, failure to remain at the scene of an accident resulting in serious injury and death, using a text messaging device that resulted in an accident and driving while intoxicated.The judge set her bail at $2.5 million.

     Mr. Palermo's sister-in-law thanked Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby for filing the charges. "We are deeply saddened to learn of the events leading up to the senseless hit-and-run accident that claimed Tom's life and support the prosecutor's efforts to hold Bishop Heather Cook accountable for her actions to the fullest extent of the law," she said.

     In October 2015 Heather Cook pleaded guilty to vehicular Manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident, driving under the influence and texting while driving. The judge sentenced her to seven years in prison.

     In May 2017 the Maryland Parole Commission denied Cook's request for early parole. Members of the board denied the request because she never apologized for her crimes and showed no remorse for the damage she had done.

     Heather Cook petitioned, in May 2018, for home detention. That request was denied. Two months later, Cook asked for work release. After members of victim Thomas Palermo's family objected to Cook's petition that request was also denied.

     The authorities, in May 2019 released Heather Cook from prison after she had served a little more that three years of her seven-year sentence. Under the terms of her sentence she would be on probation until 2024.

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