Leaders in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland who this spring made Heather Elizabeth Cook a bishop — the diocese’s first female bishop — knew the ugly details of her 2010 drunk-driving arrest but determined “that this one mistake should not bar her for consideration as a leader,” the diocese said in a statement Tuesday.
Now the diocese finds itself under fire after Cook’s acknowledgment that she was involved in a crash on Saturday that killed bicyclist Thomas Palermo, the father of two small children. Cook left the scene but returned later, Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton said in a statement Monday.
Baltimore police said they have questioned a woman about the crash, but they have not named Cook and no charges have been filed.
Cook’s attorney, David Irwin, declined to comment in detail but has confirmed she was involved in the crash.
Since May, Cook has been the No. 2 bishop in the diocese, which is headquartered in Baltimore and includes 21,500 households in west, central and parts of Southern Maryland. Episcopalians in Washington’s close-in Maryland suburbs are part of the Washington Diocese.
According to records released Tuesday by the Caroline County sheriff’s office, Cook — who was then assigned as a priest on the Eastern Shore of Maryland — was pulled over at 1:15 a.m. in September 2010 and was too intoxicated to complete sobriety tests. She had vomit on her shirt, the report said, and one of her four tires was shredded down to the rims. Cook told the officer she was driving from Canada and had drunk alcohol and smoked marijuana while driving, according to the police report.
Cook later submitted to a blood-alcohol breath test and recorded a 0.27, far above the legal limit.