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Maryland Bishop could face 20 years in prison for killing cyclist in hit and run

Prosecutors say Heather Cook was drunk and texting when she hit cyclist and father of two Tom Palermo

The Baltimore Sun reports that Maryland's first female Episcopalian bishop, Heather Cook, has been charged with manslaughter for allegedly driving drunk and sending text messages when she killed cyclist Thomas Palermo in a hit and run incident last month.

Mr Palermo was riding on Roland Avenue, Baltimore, when he was hit by a Subaru estate at about 2.45pm. According to charging documents, a witness says that the driver, Cook, was texting at the time and that Tom Palermo was in a bike lane when he was hit.

Moncure Lyon was on the scene when the incident happened. While other witnesses called emergency services, he went looking for the vehicle and found it stopped at traffic lights.

"The windshield was completely smashed in, with a hole on the passenger side, and from the damage of the car, there was no doubt in my mind that was the car. I asked the lady who was driving 'Are you all right?' Then the light turned green, she said 'yes,' and she left."

Baltimore City State’s attorney, Marilyn Mosby, says Cook drove to her home within a gated apartment complex, and waited half an hour before returning. She was then taken for a breathalyser test, recording 0.22 per cent – nearly triple the legal limit in Maryland.

According to police reports, Mr Palermo was still alive when emergency services arrived, but died later in Sinai Hospital.

Cook surrendered to police yesterday afternoon and was being held at Central Booking with bail set at $2.5 million. She faces numerous charges, including manslaughter, leaving the scene of a fatal accident and driving under the influence. Both the manslaughter and leaving the scene charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.

Brian Thompson, a former Baltimore County prosecutor, said sentences of between a year and 18 months are not uncommon, but because Cook is alleged to have been severely intoxicated and to have left the scene, it is likely to be much more. Thompson also said that Cook’s prior record would have an influence on sentencing.

Cook previously pleaded guilty to a 2010 drunk driving charge. On that occasion, she recorded 0.27 on a breathalyser test, was unable to complete field sobriety tests, had vomit on her shirt and whiskey in the passenger seat. Marijuana was also found in the vehicle.

She had been driving the same car involved in the Palermo accident and had been stopped while driving on the shoulder of the road with a shredded tyre.

Cook's previous case was not revealed to Episcopal clerics and lay delegates who last year elected her to the post of bishop suffragan – the first woman to reach the position in the diocese.

In a statement, local cycling campaign group, Bikemore, drew attention to the fact that Palermo had sadly not even been safe while riding in a bike lane.

“It is clear that dedicated bicycle lanes were not enough to keep even an experienced bicycle rider safe. We urge the justice system to hold the driver who killed Tom accountable for her actions. 

“Bikemore will continue to advocate for Baltimore to follow the lead of other major cities and build physically-separated bicycle infrastructure to protect the growing number of people who ride bicycles for transportation and recreation.”

In a joint statement with Bike Maryland, they later said: “We would like to remind everyone that when you hit-and-run you are choosing to deny that victim immediate care.”

The statement also emphasised that the death of a cyclist in a car collision is preventable if all road users slow down and commit their full attention to “the operation [of] what can be a deadly weapon when wielded incorrectly.”

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benb | 9 years ago

I wish the UK CPS would grow some balls and start charging people with manslaughter.

oozaveared replied to benb | 9 years ago
benb wrote:

I wish the UK CPS would grow some balls and start charging people with manslaughter.

It's not a case of balls really. It's just that in the UK manslaughter would be the wrong charge because we have a more specific charge that would apply. Causing death by dangerous driving. In Marland they have a charge of DUI Manslaughter (Driving Under the Influence)

The max sentence in the UK for Causing Death by Dangerous Driving is 14 years. Starting point for sentencing is 7 years. No mitigation to reduce that. The level of alcohol also means that it would be clear to anyone that you would be drink driving (as opposed to a level of a couple of drinks and being just over). That's an aggravating factor so you add on to the 7 years starting point. Another aggravating factor would be the texting so you add more time. Another aggravating factor would be the hit and run element so you add more time. Most likely she'd get 9-10 years less whatever discount applied for an early plea.

The max sentence for DUI manslaughter in Maryland is 10 years.

Iamnot Wiggins | 9 years ago

As The Episcopal Church describes itself as being both "Protestant and Catholic", perhaps she thought she was both sober and safe?

pwake | 9 years ago

She tested nearly three times the legal limit about an hour after the accident! That's about nine drinks that hadn't cleared her system, at 2:45pm!! She clearly enjoys a drop or two of the blood of Christ.

Cyclist | 9 years ago


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