Heather Cook, the first female bishop of the Episcopal Church in Maryland, has been suspended following a hit-and-run accident on Saturday in which she reportedly hit a bicyclist on Roland Avenue. The bicyclist, Thomas Palermo, later died at the hospital. According to a report from Baltimore television station WBAL, the motorist left the scene of the accident, but then returned a short time later. Her car was heavily damaged, with a hole in the windshield on the passenger side. The bicycle was destroyed. Cook, 58, was elected in May 2014 as Bishop Suffragan, second in command in the Maryland Episcopal Diocese, under Bishop Eugene Sutton. Bishop Sutton had been scheduled to begin a sabbatical in January 2015, but that has now been postponed indefinitely. According to the diocesan website, Cook has served the Church and its people in a variety of capacities since her ordination in 1988, from school chaplain to parish priest to diocesan staff. Most recently she was the canon to the ordinary in the Episcopal Diocese of Easton on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Her parents were involved with the Episcopal church–her father as rector of Old St. Paul’s in Baltimore, and her mother as a teacher of Religious Studies at St. Timothy School.
Apparently, this was not Bishop Cook’s first run-in with the law. According to a report from the Baltimore Brew, Heather E. Cook had been arrested in September 2010, before being named a bishop, on drinking, driving and drug charges:
The two drug charges – possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia – were dropped in January 2012 by the Caroline County state’s attorney’s office, online records show.
She earlier pleaded guilty to the DUI charge and received “probation before judgement” with a $800 fine, $500 of which was suspended.
The victim Thomas Palermo, 41, was owner and operator of Palermo Bicycles in North Baltimore. On the shop’s website, Palermo wrote:
“I am a one-man, frame shop offering made-to-measure lugged steel framesets including road, fixed/single-speed, touring, and cyclocross as well as a variety of frame repair services.”
Bishop Sutton has issued the following statement on the website of the Maryland Episcopal Diocese:
I am distressed to announce that Bishop Heather E. Cook was involved in a traffic accident Saturday afternoon, Dec 27, that resulted in the death of a bicyclist, Thomas Palermo, 41. Bishop Cook did not sustain any injuries. Together with the Diocese of Maryland, I express my deep sorrow over the death of the cyclist and offer my condolences to the victim’s family. Please pray for Mr. Palermo, his family and Bishop Cook during this most difficult time. Please do not contact Bishop Cook directly, but feel free to send written notes to the Diocesan Center.
There is an ongoing police investigation into the accident. Several news agencies have reported this as a ‘hit and run.’ Bishop Cook did leave the scene initially, but returned after about 20 minutes to take responsibility for her actions.
Because the nature of the accident could result in criminal charges, I have placed Bishop Cook on administrative leave, effective immediately. I will meet shortly with the Standing Committee to discuss ways we can move forward. Also, I have decided to delay my sabbatical
to Jan. 24indefinitely to be pastorally present in this difficult time.
The Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton Bishop of Maryland