Former bishop pleads guilty to manslaughter
THE FORMER Suffragan Bishop of Maryland, Heather Cook, pled guilty last week to manslaughter charges in a Baltimore court and accepted criminal responsibility for the death of a cyclist.
On the afternoon of Saturday 27 December 2014 Cook was driving on Roland Avenue in Baltimore, when she swerved out of the traffic lane into the cyclist’s lane, striking Thomas Palermo (41) from behind.
Palermo was propelled onto the hood and windscreen of the bishop’s car, before landing onto the pavement.
Cook then fled the scene of the accident leaving Palermo to die in the street. She returned 30 minutes later to the accident scene, before leaving again.
She then returned to the scene of the accident a second time and was arrested by the police.
Field sobriety tests revealed the bishop was intoxicated and that her blood alcohol level was over three times the legal limit for motorists in Maryland.
Witnesses to the accident also reported the bishop was texting on her mobile phone when she swerved into the cyclist lane.
Charged with 13 felony counts, Cook was released on bail of $2.5 million. On 1 May 2015 the Episcopal Church deposed her from the ordained ministry. After her arrest it was revealed that Cook, whilst serving as canon to the ordinary or chief assistant to the Bishop of Easton, had been arrested and fined for drunk driving.
Appearing in a Baltimore City Circuit Court on 8 September, one day ahead of her scheduled trial, Cook (58) pled guilty to vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence of alcohol, leaving the scene of a fatal accident and texting while driving.
Prosecutors have asked she be sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, with 10 years of her sentence suspended, followed by five years probation. The arrest of Bishop Cook prompted the national Episcopal Church to review its policies on alcohol, culminating in a series of recommendations set forth by the General Convention in June to address alcohol and substance abuse and the use and promotion of alcohol in church-related events.
Sentencing for Cook is scheduled for later next month.