Bishop Suffragan of Maryland tied to crash in Baltimore

Bishop Heather Cook was placed on administrative leave after an automobile collision with a bicyclist who later died from his injuries.

The Rt. Rev. Heather Cook, Bishop Suffragan of  Maryland, has been identified as the driver involved in a deadly bicycle crash on Saturday in the Roland Park section of Baltimore. Thomas Palermo died from his injuries. Cook apparently left the scene of the accident and returned about twenty minutes later. The Bishop has been placed on administrative leave by Bishop Eugene Sutton.


The bishop’s involvement in the crash was confirmed by the director of communication with the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

Authorities said Cook’s vehicle struck and killed a bicyclist around 2:45 p.m. Saturday.

Police officers were called to the 5700 block of Roland Avenue for a report of a car accident.

When officers arrived, they found 41-year-old Thomas Palermo who had been struck by a car.

The victim was transported to Sinai Hospital, where he later died from his injuries.

Investigators from the CRASH team were called to the scene.

Detectives believe a Subaru station wagon was traveling southbound in the 5700 block of Roland Avenue when the vehicle struck the bicyclist.

Police said Cook originally left the scene but later returned. She is being questioned by detectives.

There have been no word on whether she will face any charges.

The Baltimore Brew posted a letter from Bishop Eugene Sutton to the clergy of the Diocese:

From the Bishop’s Office
Dec. 28, 2014
To the Clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland

Dear Colleagues,

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 organizations 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 the beginning of my sabbatical to Jan. 24 to be pastorally present in this difficult time.

+ Eugene
The Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton
Bishop of Maryland

The Brew reported the story and with it published an inquiry about a 2010 DUI arrest, but has so far received no confirmation as to that situation.

See also: WMAR-TV and Baltimore Sun

Posted by Andrew Gerns

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  1. JC Fisher

    RIP, Thomas Palermo. Prayers ascending for this terrible situation…

  2. Sharon

    Wish the headline were stronger. “Bishop kills cyclist” would fit.

  3. Sharon

    Am I alone in being appalled by Bp Taylor’s letter? Calling it an “accident” before fault has been determined? And what is it other than hit and run when a motorist drives off leaving a person she hit dying in the road? Glad she returned and took responsibility but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hit and run.

    • Stewart M.Hunt

      Yet she didn’t take responsibility … she was FORCED to return to the scene and it was 45 minutes later … not the 20 that might imply she circled around the block in a confused state. She fled to her gated community while being tracked by another bicyclist.

  4. Susan

    You seem awfully eager to convict a person before the facts are known in an ongoing investigation.

  5. Tim Harwood

    Facts? I looked at the photos of her vehicle with a caved in passenger windshield and major damage to the hood. She obviously knew she hit someone. Unless of course she was inebriated; as she was once before when charged with DUI in 2010.

  6. Stewart M.Hunt

    Witnesses at the scene are reporting the good Bishop was chased down by another bicyclist right to her gated community, and forced to return 45 minutes later, NOT 20 minutes! In her previous drunk driving incident where she blew a .27, she was allowed to plead out to some sort of “judgement before trial”. She’s apparently a morally bankrupt individual who can pretend with the very best.

    • Cynthia Chaltas Harkin

      We should be careful not allow ourselves to lose sight of the fact that no man possesses the absolute wisdom required that would qualify him to make and cast judgement on others. Judgement should only be utilized for something akin to guessing a measurement, or weighing the better route; when employed toward a fellow human being, it speaks only of the author’s own shortcomings. What should instead be foremost in our view, is the soul behind the imperfections of humanity, as none of us are immune to human deficiency. If we were to learn as evidence based fact that the bishop left the scene aware of the damage she had caused, perhaps our better offering would be to feel a sense of compassion for someone having been so confused about aligning their priorities. Without truly knowing all the essential information, individual perceptions can only be based on hearsay and conjecture, which serves to beg us to expect more from ourselves.

      • Stewart M.Hunt

        Were you somehow confused by this being a “comment” section? No one here is slapping cuffs on the bishop or putting her in jail. I read your amazing post a few times and any person utilizing an ounce of common sense would see it as a treatise, an essay on why society should let everyone out of prison. I do thank you for a spectacular, entertaining insight into the mind of a person living in a Disney, bluebirds and Candyland world. Dictators PRAY for people like you … I’ll bet you have a bust of Nelville Chamberlain in your prayer closet.

  7. Tammy

    Can we turn off the comments on this article to respect the dignity of all involved and to instead turn our energies to prayer?

    • Tammy

      Rev. Tammy Wooliver

      Thanks Tammy for adding your name.

    • Stewart M.Hunt

      NO !!!

  8. Randall Stewart

    Respectfully, once the facts are known and there has been time to “cool off,” there may need to be some serious questions raised about leadership in the Diocese. If, in fact, she had a DUI that was a matter of public record and was this recent, why was her nomination allowed to go forward? From where I sit, the Standing Committee, if they had done their work and unless the record was somehow sealed at the time, should never have allowed her to go to a vote.

    I do not think it is too early to suggest that resignations -might- be in order.

    • William Winston

      I agree, Randall. It’s time our bishops stepped up and took responsibility for their failures in leadership, where they occur, as well as be praised for their brilliant successes – as is going on now in Western New York.

  9. Jim Frodge

    I hope that we have learned from Ferguson, Missouri the outcome of engaging in a rush to judgment. People, including Episcopal clergy, took to the streets in protest proclaiming the killing of Michael Brown an example of police misconduct and demanding the arrest of Darren Wilson for murder. When the truth came out a Grand Jury ruled that the shooting was self defense. Darren Wilson deserved a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, something that many including some of our own clergy, denied him.

    Bp. Sutton seems to have taken a prudent first step in this matter. When more facts are uncovered additional appropriate actions can then be taken. Let us at least give Bp. Cook the presumption of innocence that many denied Officer Darren Wilson. It is time to learn from past mistakes and wait for the facts to all come out before we begin demanding retribution.

    • JC Fisher

      Oh brother, you’re citing ***Ferguson*** (the grand jury?!) here??? Kyrie eleison…

  10. Michael Hartney

    The replies from “L” are not according to the protocol required by Episcopal Cafe. You must include your full name when posting. Usually the ushers remind posters of this responsibility. So, “L” who are you?

  11. Michael Hartney

    And for that matter, who are ‘Sharon’, ‘Susan’, ‘Tammy’ and ‘Margaret”?

  12. Chrystal Hays

    I’m very, very saddened by this news. One of my friends was a witness to the accident, and was on the scene for a long, long time…no one returned “20 minutes later”.
    It’s awful for the cyclist and his family, and now for the parishoners and the Church itself, which is likely to be judged by the actions of this one clergy member. I’m Episcopalian, and all the clergy I know personally would have stopped to try to render aid. Prayers are needed for all involved.

  13. Dorian Borsella

    As a parishioner in the diocese, I feel truly saddened by the death of Mr. Palermo and the terrible loss that his family has sustained. My prayers also go out to Heather Cook. I can not help feeling anger that she deserted a dying man instead of immediately calling 911 and then doing a priest’s job: comforting a dying person and administering last rites. But I realize that I need to pray, not to judge.

    • Randall Stewart

      I think we make a mistake when we extend “judge not” to leadership. This is Bishop, and we must hold our leaders accountable. I Timothy 3, whether you agree with the “letter of the law” or not, is clearly asking us to make judgements about leadership.

      Again, we should give some time for a full and proper investigation, and to cool off. At present I think that the leaders of the Diocese and the recent election process have some very hard questions to answer, though.

  14. Jon White

    All, please remember that our commenting policy asks everyone to use their real full name and that comments are meant to foster respectful conversation.

    Thank you from the Episcopal Cafe

  15. Nick Porter

    First of all, prayers for the family of Thomas Palermo at this horrible time that no one should have to face. Secondly, given her prior DUI charge that she pled guilty to, she should have never been a finalist for the episcopate at all. I hope that Title IV charges come swiftly, even though the honorable thing for her to do is submit her immediate resignation.

  16. Karen Johanns

    Let’s remember that at the time of her nomination Bishop Cook may have been working a recovery program from which she has now “slipped.” I don’t know about anyone else, but I would be very reluctant to disallow clergy in recovery to stand for election to the episcopate.

    I don’t know anything at all about Bishop Cook or whether or not she was in recovery at the time of her election, and if she is guilty of causing Mr. Palermo’s death she should certainly resign her position. I’m just concerned about the sentiment that Bishop Cook’s name should not have been placed in nomination because of a past DUI when we are unaware of what efforts she had made towards sobriety by the time she was nominated in MD. After all, there are many fine church people – clergy and laity alike – who are sober and have served in their positions for many years without scandal or injury to anyone.

    May God grant peace to the soul of Mr. Palermo, comfort to his family, and healing to Bishop Cook.

    • Nick Porter

      You might be reluctant and that is your right, but I am not. Perhaps if we went back to what scripture says about the type of leaders we should have, maybe our beloved Episcopal Church would not be in the current shape it is in. Some people are not fit for ministry, period.

      • JC Fisher

        “our beloved Episcopal Church would not be in the current shape it is in”

        And what shape would that be? I’m sensing “piling on” here, to an assumed agenda. Please share your agenda, Nick, so we can all decide if we agree w/ it or not.

      • Geoff McLarney

        Why “especially”?

      • Geoff McLarney

        And when would you say is enough of a “safe” period to be considered again? Or should everyone who has been in recovery be treated as lifelong pariahs from ministry?

      • Nick Porter

        I’m raising a young family. Just as we expect our military and police to be of high moral character, I expect my shepherd to be of the same. I don’t want my tithes going to support a ministry being led by an unsuitable person. Take that how ever you will. Not everyone is suited for the stress that ministry will bring. Clearly this bishop is one of them who is not.

      • Steve Rowe

        Finally some sense. Thanks Nick

    • Randall Stewart

      Again, and with greatest respect: not everyone is cut out to be a Bishop of the Church. There are presently over 600 “likes” on the Facebook page demanding her indictment and the vitriol directed at the Diocese and wider church is palpable. To forgive is not to excuse from accountability.

      • Nick Porter

        Amen Randall!!!

  17. Michael Russell

    If there is any compassion in the Bishop’s heart she needs to ease the family’s suffering by owning what happened. The law may provide “gates” for her in dealing with the consequences for her in that realm. But Title IV has no such gates. She may neither lawyer up nor refuse to acknowledge her choices.
    For the family this should be concluded tomorrow, with the Bishop telling the truth. Contacting the Restorative Justice program might be a good start.

    The Palermo family deserves the unglossed truth. bishop Sutton and the Standing Committee need to press to make that happen.

  18. Steven McCarty

    According to a spokesperson from the Diocese; when Bishop Cook was vetted to be on alist of candidates for Bishop Suffrangan; she discolosed to the Diocese & I assume Bishop Search Committee about her DUI & Drug arrest in 2010 while she was the Canon to the Ordinary for the Episcopal Diocese of Easton. The information about her DUI/Drug arrest was not relayed to the Delegates who would vote in the Suffragan Election. I believe this should be explained to the clergy & lay delegates.

  19. Patricia Clagett

    If investigation bears out the facts as reported, Bishop Cook should step down and resign as Suffragan. Leaving the scene of a fatal accident is something she will have to face up to, as a citizen, as a licensed driver, and as a Christian. But she shouldn’t put the Diocese nor the church at large through the consequences of her personal actions. She can seek forgiveness as a sinner but not as Bishop.

  20. “Without truly knowing all the essential information, individual perceptions can only be based on hearsay and conjecture, which serves to beg us to expect more from ourselves.”

    Darren Wilson
    Ferguson, Missouri

    • Joseph avedisian

      If it were a black man in her place he’d be in jail with out the pity of all you “Christians”

      • Nick Porter

        Black,white,male, or female, she needs to be in jail and defrocked no question about it.

      • Deacon Ray Brown

        Joseph, I can forgive her but I have no pity! If she is in active addiction, she needs help. The only high should should be experiencing is the natural high from serving God and the church. She needs to be held accountable for her crime.

  21. Deacon Ray Brown

    It often takes a tragedy like this to convince an alcoholic or addict that they need help! Living with her decision to leave the scene of an accident and not render assistance and comfort to a dying man will be her worst punishment.

  22. Fr. John Farrell

    I know all about the standard of “innocent proven guilty,” but Bishop Cook has already admitted leaving the scene of an accident that caused a death. Two lawyers in my family with whom I had lunch yesterday tell me her return to the scene in an alleged “twenty minutes” will not mitigate anything in terms of a hit and run charge (and now it seems her “20 minutes” was more like 45). Anyway, to me, this is a matter of moral character, and there seems to be a serious ethical failure in this instance. I was also shocked to learn she was charged in 2010 with DUI and possession of pot. Could someone tell me where the hell the Suffragan Search Committee was on this one? Heather Cook led the field in a slate of five women candidates. It strikes me that Maryland’s political zeal to have a woman suffragan blinded the people who should have vetted all five properly.

    • Fr. John Farrell

      Understanding that discussion of alcohol and alcoholism in the Cook case is sheer speculation, I’d like to make several tentative remarks to those who might argue that Bishop Cook may have demonstrated to the Search Committee that she was in a recovery program and was addressing her alcoholism successfully. On that basis, the committee may have decided not to jeopardize her chances by making the matter public. Be that as it may, but as a priest in recovery for forty years I can tell you this was not the case when I was interviewed by a Commission on Ministry in 1985. At that point commissions were looking for at least ten years of continuous sobriety before a person in recovery could be ordained. Upon advice, that was the time period regarded as necessary to reach full recovery with a diminished chance of relapse. If she was elected with less than two years of sobriety and expected to withstand the rigors of the episcopacy emotionally unprepared, a relapse might have been predicted.

  23. Dave Paisley

    In all this “let’s pray for everybody” malarkey, the fact that a wife and two kids lost their husband and father gets totally diminished.

    This is a woman who registered a 0.27% BAC in 2010, with an empty whisky bottle and drug paraphernalia in her car when arrested. BTW, what does a 0.27% look like:

    BAC 0.20–0.29%
    Stupor, Loss of understanding, Impaired sensations, Possibility of falling unconscious
    Severe motor impairment, Loss of consciousness, Memory blackout

    Once you get to 0.30% you’re talking about “possibility of death”. And to be able to function to even a drive a car at 0.27% means that she was/remains a functional alcoholic, and you don’t just shake that off in a couple of years, especially if people are bending over backwards to be nice to you.

    So this woman didn’t just have a glass of wine more than she should have, she was far, far, beyond that and probably got off light (just probation, drug charges dropped) because of her fancy title and white skin.

    Fast forward four years, and the chance that she was driving impaired is significant – and certainly a major candidate for her decision to flee the scene.

    She’s a despicable person and whoever decided that her prior conviction should be suppressed so she could remain a candidate for bishop should be held accountable for that terrible decision too.

  24. Randall Stewart

    The funeral for the victim, Thomas Palerno, will be held at at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Towson, Maryland, on Saturday at 10 AM.

    In the interests of full disclosure, I first learned of this horrible tragedy from a friend who works for that parish.

    The Diocese has released a statement explaining its decision to let her stand for election, appealing to Christian forgiveness and stating that (referring to her 2010 arrest) “it was determined that this one mistake should not bar her for consideration as a leader.”

    • Nick Porter

      Then those who put her up to stand for election should also go right out the door along with her.

    • Dave Paisley

      Driving with a BAC of 0.27% isn’t something a rookie drinker can do (they’d be comatose) – it takes a really experienced alcoholic to be able to do that. So her first conviction was highly unlikely to be a single mistake, merely the tip of the iceberg. It should have been much more than fair warning that she was a ticking bomb.

      And, to be honest, a single mistake of that type should have been enough to bar her from leadership – at the very least the voters deserved to know and vote accordingly. They wouldn’t have touched her with a barge pole, and for very good reason, as it turns out.

  25. Kenneth Knapp

    I think we need to pray for everybody. Our prayers for the victim are not diminished by our prayers for the bishop. The families of the victim and the bishop are also impacted by this. We need to keep them all in our prayers.

    • Dave Paisley

      Yeah, well the “impact” isn’t exactly symmetrical. It’s hard to believe the bishop’s family is unaware of her problem with substance abuse, so they might just as easily be complicit in allowing her to pose a danger to society at large.

      The victim’s family, wife and two kids )who look to be about age 8-10), are undoubtedly affected to a vastly greater degree.

      So if it’s OK with you, I’m going to concentrate my prayers on that side of things.

      • Kenneth Knapp

        It’s ok with me.

  26. Bill Carroll

    I don’t believe that 3 years is long enough sober after a DUI that the nominating committee should have allowed her name to go forward. I also believe that any criminal convictions should be disclosed to all participating in the election. Transparency aids proper discernment and helps mitigate the scandal should something like this happen. That said, I do wish the finger pointing and political haymaking would go away. Let’s focus on prayer and making constructive changes. I pray for the victim and his family. I pray for Bishop Cook and her family. She needs to be held accountable, if the facts are reported accurately and she is convicted. I pray also for Bishop Sutton and the people of the Diocese of Maryland. Since the accident, his handling if the situation has been exemplary, expressing concern for all involved, supporting the police investigation, and neither rushing to judgment nor sweeping anything under the rug. If there were lapses of judgment during the election, and I think there were, they are not his alone but the shared decision of the seaech committee against full transparency. This decision negatively affects the diocese because it causes scandal. But Bishop Cook alone is responsible for her conduct. And I, for one, am grateful that Bishop Sutton has not added to the scandal since the accident but has provided a grace filled response in public with the possibility for healing and accountability. The standard for our leaders should not be perfection but integrity, and I don’t think there is any good reason to question Bishop Sutton’s. I do think we need to think carefully about how candidates are vetted and how criminal convcitions of any kind are handled. I believe in grace and redemption. I also believe in prudence and accountability. For the exact same reasons.

  27. Robert Martin

    I would say the bishop’s drinking problem or whatever it is, disqualifies her completely from the position of overseer, whether she is in “recovery” or not. And for good reason. An overseer is to be above reproach and a light to others and a visible symbol of the Church–of the strength, nobility and good of the Church.

    “Whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard….”

  28. Marianne Ley

    I am an Episcopalian in the Diocese of Maryland. I have one comment: “I am so very, very sorry” If our Bishops won’t publicly say it, I will.

  29. Michael Hartney

    Again, the protocol of Episcopal Cafe requires that you sign your full name (no screen names, initials, or anonymous postings). Those who are new at posting on Episcopal Cafe please take note.

    • Ann Fontaine

      Thanks Michael – because the new system often posts comments without checking for names – we are unapproving those without full names. If you have to post anonymously – write to us for permission first. Editor.

  30. Michael Cadaret

    I am not naïve about the issue of alcoholism, and I agree with many of the observations about it. But so far, no news outlet has reported that the bishop was under the influence on this day, nor has law enforcement, nor have any eyewitnesses. She could have been, of course, but we just don’t know, from any reliable source, that she was.

    I don’t like that the voting delegates didn’t know about the previous arrest or how it was addressed by the Bishop of Easton. Was there a Title IV (canonical process for ecclesial discipline) proceeding after the arrest? If so, what were the outcomes? If not, why not? I do believe in forgiveness, even for our leaders who should be held to higher standards, but it is entirely unclear how the church addressed her previous arrest.

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