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Bishop Cook & the death of Tom Palermo – an overview

Bishop Cook & the death of Tom Palermo – an overview

The death of Tom Palermo from injuries sustained in car-on-bike collision has generated a great deal of ink (both virtual and the black kind) as well as much invective and recrimination directed at Heather Cook (Suffragan Bishop, Diocese of Maryland) who was driving the car involved.  Since the accident, very little new information concerning the accident has been released.


What we know:

Tom Palermo was riding a bicycle on Saturday afternoon in suburban Baltimore on a street with marked bike lanes and was involved in a collision with an automobile driven by Heather Cook.

Palermo was not killed at the scene but was alive when police responded and was taken to the hospital where he died from injuries sustained in the collision.

Cook did not stop at the time of the accident, but left the scene only to return later (how much later varies in different reports).  Her car sustained a great deal of damage; seemingly sufficient that the driver would be aware of the collision.


Cook has been placed on administrative leave by the Diocesan Bishop, Eugene Taylor Sutton.


The police have not yet filed charges against Cook, nor released any information regarding the cause of the accident or whether or not alcohol or any other substance was a factor.  There has been a great deal of conjecture about the bishop’s condition at the time of the accident (no doubt due to a DUI she received in 2010).  Again, the police have not released any information regarding alcohol or other substances that may have affected her ability to drive at the time of the accident.


What’s Next?

We here at the Café are following this story and hope to have more updates as they are known, but we urge our readers to refrain from making judgments based on unknowns.  That she left the scene of the accident is a serious charge; a felony in Maryland, whether she was responsible for the collision or not, whether she was intoxicated or not, or distracted in some other way that resulted in the death of Tom Palermo.


We do urge our readers, who feel moved to be helpful, to make a donation to the fund established to help the Palermo family.


The accident has generated lots of commentary, not only on the accident itself, but on other issues arising from it, such as how to determine fitness for office in the church, substance abuse among clergy, and the tension between forgiveness and accountability.  You can find some of these here:


posted by Jon White


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Doug Landau

As a fellow cyclist, I grieve over Mr. Palermo’s death and the loss to his family and community. As a former prosecutor, I agree that all defendants should be treated equally. If the facts supporting charges of crossing into the bike lane and then fleeing the scene are true, then the punishment should fit the crime. However, if there were no eyewitnesses, then the investigation can take time. The 911 call evidence may provew critical to both the “leaving the scene” charge as well as the initial impact. I hope that the police are able to secure competent evidence (not all evidence is allowed in court, such as “Hearsay,”) so that justice can be served. Today’s post on our athletes and sports cases site discusses how they might go about getting the evidence necessary to prove this tragic case.

Randall Stewart

On another thread I was somewhat outspoken about how this case called out for justice, and how Maryland’s historical inequity contributed to that. If this post gets deleted I understand, but here, a public defender argues that Episcopal privilege is protecting Heather Cook:

David Streever

I think that’s a fair perspective & appreciate you sharing it; I think his perspective (as an attorney who works with the state system) lends some weight to his criticism and his speculation on the likely outcomes! Thank you for sharing that.

John Gangwisch

I won’t be offended if you do not include my comments below because I know I am “worked-up” about this issue…

You did not mention the quotes made by Bishop Sutton or the Diocese and reported by the BBC and Baltimore Sun that show how everyone is avoiding the issue of Truth, something I hold central to my faith.

“She’s distraught about the tragedy of the death of the cyclist,” Irwin said of Cook. (No mention of involvement at all)

Diocesan Bishop Eugene Sutton told clergy members in an email that Bishop Cook returned 20 minutes later “to take responsibility for her actions”. (Doesn’t explain what here actions were and doesn’t express any regret)

“One of the core values of the Christian faith is forgiveness. We cannot preach forgiveness without practicing forgiveness and offering people opportunity for redemption,” the diocese said in a statement. (Doesn’t a statement of the full truth by Bishop Cook have to come before any forgiveness?)

David Streever

John, as a long-time cyclist (who even gave up his car for almost a decade), I sympathize with you on this. I don’t know, however, that we possess the legal expertise and staff power to tease apart and analyze each element of this story. My personal decision, as a contributor to the Café, is to wait for more facts and information to come out before I really analyze the story and the reporting. There is a lot of car-centric bias in the newspaper stories I’ve read to date, which doesn’t surprise me; it’s a sad reality that we live in a culture where traffic deaths are typically treated as ‘accidents’ and unpreventable.

I also understand the perspective of her boss–and pastor–and the general media in not publicly condemning her as an individual. Without the details of the crash, and without police corroboration of the information, it’s truly hard to know if Bishop Cook was doing anything specifically illegal or even irresponsible.

I do hope that she is charged with his death, as I hope that every driver involved in a fatal car collision is charged. I don’t know that she’s guilty, but I strongly believe that the court system should be the next step; I worry that the police will simply dismiss this as an accident. They may be correct, but I hope that the police (and the Bishop) have enough faith in the judicial system and a trial of one’s peers to submit their theory to a court for a robust cross-examination of fact.

I think it’s important that we, in our grief and anger at seeing another cyclist so tragically killed, can separate our conjecture/speculation from the few, scant facts we have; I’ve been alarmed to see many people sharing their personal theory as some sort of sacrosanct factual account.

We know that our society does not value cycling or walking as forms of transportation, hence the enormous expenditure and outlay of funds on private automobile infrastructure and the failure of our nation to build comprehensive infrastructure for walkers and cyclists. I think that it’s important to remember the very real personal tragedy of Palermo and his family and loved ones, and that we can do this while also acknowledging that the responsibility for his death does not solely lie with the individual driving the car that hit him and caused his death. I absolutely hope she is charged for this, and I hope the truth comes out in court, but I also hope that we can all see the systemic inequities that led to his death and continue to agitate for their elimination.

Michael Hartney

“Cook has been placed on administrative leave by the Diocesan Bishop, Eugene Taylor Sutton.”

Title IV.17 gives the authority of placing a Bishop under Administrative Leave to the Presiding Bishop, not the Bishop Diocesan. (IV.2.(c)). The House of Bishops specifically wrote this into the Canon.

Randall Stewart

Adding to what Monique said: Roland Park is in Baltimore City. It was one of our first “streetcar suburbs,” built up in the 1890’s, and has very wide streets that ultimate lead north to the Elkridge Estates Apts., in Baltimore County, where Cook is reported to have fled.

There is an Episcopal parish with a few blocks of the accident site.

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