The first female bishop of the Episcopalian Church and the second in command of the denomination in Maryland has been named by her diocese as the driver of a car that mowed down a father and beloved Baltimore bicycle maker two days after Christmas.
According to police reports, at 2:37 p.m. on December 27, Thomas Palermo, 41, was riding his bike on Roland Avenue in North Baltimore when he was struck by a passenger car that then sped away. The cyclist, who was a well-known custom-bike maker, died from his injuries. The street is described by locals as ideal and safe for cycling with “two traffic lanes and a bike lane in each direction.”
The motorist reportedly returned to the scene “only after she was reportedly chased down by other cyclists.” Within 24 hours, Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, named 58 year-old Heather E. Cook, the newly ordained Bishop Suffragan of the Episcopalian Church in the Old Line State, as the driver. A photo of Cook’s car shows a smashed-in front windshield.
Sutton’s email said Cook had been suspended from her religious duties “because of the nature of the accident could result in criminal charges.”
This is not the first time Cook has had a run-in with the law over reckless driving. According to local media and online court records, Cook was arrested four years ago for “drinking, driving and drug charges.” At that time, Caroline County police said she registered over three times the legal limit for alcohol. Cops found a bottle of whiskey, a bottle of wine, and a purported pipe for smoking pot in her car. She pled guilty to the DUI charge and the drug charges against her were dropped.
According to her “autographical statement” issued at her ordination in September, Cook has led something of a wayward life: “Curiosity about the world prompted me to pursue university studies in Canada and England, and work as an au pair in Spain, on a kibbutz in Israel, and as a grape-picker in France and vegetable-harvester in England.”
She said, “Through the ups and downs of ministry, I remain convinced that the Spirit equips us with all we need to make the Good News known in our time. I’m unconvinced by the naysayers who say the day of the Church is over. I believe a new Church is just beginning, and feel called to help lead in the discovery. “
Police have not yet stated if they will press charges against her, drawing outrage from the local biking community. If she is charged and found guilty, Bishop Cook faces up to ten years in jail.