Episcopal Bishop Involved In Fatal Crash Has DUI Record

Heather Cook was ordained in the Maryland diocese almost 30 years ago
Heather Cook was ordained in the Maryland diocese almost 30 years ago

Moncure Lyon and other bystanders had stopped to help a badly injured cyclist on Roland Avenue on Saturday afternoon when a Subaru with heavy windshield damage drove by. Lyon wondered: Was this the car that had hit Thomas Palermo and left the scene?

There was only one way to find out. Lyon, 65, jumped on his Bianchi Steel Chromo bike and followed the vehicle as it drove away. He caught up with it at a stoplight and continued to follow as the car entered a nearby gated apartment community.

“I thought that car was involved in a potentially fatal hit-and-run of a biker, and I needed to get that license plate number,” Lyon said Monday.

The driver — since identified by the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and her attorney as high-ranking bishop Heather Elizabeth Cook — would return to the scene. Palermo, 41 a married father of two young children, died of his injuries.

Cook has not been charged in connection with Saturday’s crash in North Baltimore, and Baltimore police said an investigation was in its early stages.

Court records show Cook, who has spent 20 years as an Episcopal priest, pleaded guilty in 2010 to driving under the influence of alcohol in Caroline County. Cook registered 0.27 percent on a blood-alcohol test — more than three times the legal limit in Maryland — after that incident.

Baltimore police would not say whether alcohol was suspected to be a factor in Saturday’s incident. Her attorney, David Irwin, said Monday it was too soon to offer any comment on his client’s behalf.

Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton, the spiritual leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, informed clergy of the incident in an email Sunday.

Sutton told them that Cook “did leave the scene initially, but returned after about 20 minutes to take responsibility for her actions.” He said Cook has been placed on administrative leave “because the nature of the accident could result in criminal charges.”

Cook grew up in Maryland. Her father was the rector of Old St. Paul’s, and she attended St. Paul’s School for Girls. She earned a master’s degree in divinity in 1987 from the General Theological Seminary in New York City in 1987, according to a biography posted on the diocesan website.

In September, Cook became Maryland’s bishop suffragan — the No. 2 leader of the diocese, after Sutton — at a ceremony at the Church of the Redeemer on North Charles Street.

Sutton did not respond to questions about what actions, if any, the diocese took after Cook’s 2010 arrest. She pleaded guilty, received probation before judgment and was ordered to pay a $300 fine, according to records.

A diocese spokeswoman told the Associated Press that Cook disclosed the charges when she was vetted to become a bishop.

Caroline County District Court records show Cook was arrested after police saw her driving under the speed limit on the shoulder of the road on a shredded tire at 2 a.m. The officer who pulled her over reported that the car smelled of burning rubber and alcohol, and he saw vomit on her shirt.

A bottle of wine, a fifth of Irish whiskey and two baggies were inside the car, police said. On the passenger seat in plain view was a “metal smoking device.”

She was charged with possession of marijuana, but those charges were later dropped.

Cook told the officer she had been driving home from Canada and had stopped in Pennsylvania to have a few drinks, police said.

The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and Episcopal Diocese of Easton declined Monday to speak about her work for the church.

The crash Saturday occurred about 2:30 p.m. in the 5700 block of Roland Ave. in North Roland Park.

Palermo was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He lived in Anneslie, just over the city line in Baltimore County.

Lyon was riding on Roland Avenue when he came upon the injured Palermo. A car with a group of men had pulled over, and Lyon checked Palermo for a pulse. He couldn’t find one. He said someone in the group saw a vehicle drive by that could have been involved in the crash.

Lyon jumped on his bike and pedaled in pursuit. When he caught up with the car at a stoplight, “I knew it had to be the car,” he said. “The extent of the windshield damage was considerable — it was pushed in, and there was a hole.”

He asked the driver if she was OK.

“She said ‘Yes,’ and before I could see anything, she pulled ahead,” Lyon said.

Lyon said the car turned into the gated Elkridge Estates. He said a security guard allowed the vehicle to enter but stopped Lyon.

Cook returned to the scene and talked to police. Peter Duhig, a cyclist who also stopped at the scene, said she “seemed calm, collected.”

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SOURCE: Baltimore Sun
Justin Fenton, Carrie Wells and Catherine Rentz

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