It was announced earlier this week that Heather Cook, a former suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Maryland, will be released from prison later this month after serving just over three and a half years of a seven year sentence stemming from a December 27, 2014 traffic accident in which she struck and killed a cyclist and fled the scene. In 2015, Cook pleaded guilty to four charges associated with the accident, including vehicular manslaughter, texting while driving, driving under the influence of alcohol, and leaving the scene of the crash. Cook was sentenced to seven years in prison but has earned an earlier release through good behavior and participation in prison programs. Cook will be on supervised probation for five years following her release.
During her time in prison, Cook has organized a meeting for fellow inmates struggling with addiction and recovery and organized a symposium on the subject of recovery. Despite good behavior and what Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy J. Doory characterized as “substantial rehabilitation” while in prison, all of Cook’s previous motions for early release, including parole, work release, and home detention, were denied.
The family of Thomas Palermo, the cyclist and father of two who was killed when Cook struck him with her car and fled the scene, is strongly opposed to Cook’s early release. Palermo’s sisters-in-law shared their concerns in an interview with the Baltimore Sun this week. One sister-in-law, Leah Rock, expressed concern about Cook’s recovery and her ability to maintain her progress in recovery when she is released from prison and has easier access to drugs and alcohol. Another sister-in-law, Alisa Rock, stated:
“Each of Cook’s attempts to reduce her sentence — applications for parole, house arrest, work release, now … one for modification — traumatizes my sister and her family anew…This trauma will affect [Palermo’s wife and children] for the rest of their lives, and it’s only appropriate that Heather Cook serve out her original sentence not only for the act of killing Tom, but for leaving him there. Especially for leaving him there, for abdicating responsibility for what she did.”
An attorney for Cook, David Irwin, stated that while he is unsure of Cook’s exact plans upon her release, she does plan to continue working with women who are incarcerated, carrying on the work she began while in prison. The exact date of Cook’s release has not been made public, a standard safety protocol, but Cook is expected to be released by the middle of this month.