In an email to the clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, the Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton has identified the driver of the car involved in the fatal bicycle crash on Roland Avenue yesterday as Bishop Heather Elizabeth Cook, ordained in September to serve as Bishop Suffragan, the No. 2 spot in the 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 bicyclist Thomas Palermo, 41,” Bishop Sutton wrote today, noting that Cook did not sustain any injuries.
Bishop Sutton also confirmed reports that the driver at first left the scene of the accident, as police and witnesses have reported.
“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,” Sutton wrote, according to the text of the email obtained by The Brew.
Sutton also said that he has placed Cook on administrative leave, effective immediately, “because the nature of the accident could result in criminal charges.”
“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,” Sutton wrote. “Please pray for Mr. Palermo, his family and Bishop Cook during this most difficult time.”
Sutton, who was due to go on sabbatical at the start of 2015, said he would delay the beginning of the sabbatical to January 24 “to be pastorally present during this difficult time.”
He said he would be meeting soon with the church’s standing committee “to discuss ways we can move forward.”
Drinking and Drug Charges in 2010
The Brew attempted to contact Cook and Sutton via email tonight and have not yet received a reply.
UPDATE: Replying on behalf of Sutton, Sharon Tillman, director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, said tonight that Sutton’s comments are all they are releasing at this time.
The Brew asked Tillman if Bishop Cook is the same Heather Elizabeth Cook, 4325 Cabin Creek Road, arrested on September 10, 2010 on drinking, driving and drug charges in Caroline County, according to this local media coverage and online court records.
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.
Tillman said she could not comment and referred us to Cook’s personal attorney, but could not provide the attorney’s name. (A religious publishing website lists 4325 Cabin Creek-Hurlock Road as the canonical residence of Heather E. Cook.)
According to a Baltimore police spokesman, they were called to respond to “a car accident” that occurred at about 2:37 p.m. yesterday and found Palermo still alive at the scene. He was taken to Sinai Hospital where he died of his injuries.
Police have not yet named the driver or disclosed whether she will face charges.
First Female Bishop
Cook, 58, is the first woman to be ordained a bishop in the Maryland diocese. Born in Syracuse, N.Y., Cook moved to Baltimore as a young child when her father was called to the Maryland diocese and later served as rector of Old St. Paul’s.
She was ordained to the priesthood in 1988. She has served as a boarding school chaplain at Stuart Hall in Staunton, Va.; assistant rector at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Bedford, NY; rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in York, Pa.; canon for mission in the Diocese of Central New York, and canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Easton on the Eastern Shore.
– Danielle Sweeney contributed to this story.
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