Episcopal Bishop Heather Elizabeth Cook will be charged with vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence of alcohol and texting while driving in connection with the Dec. 27 crash that killed Thomas Palermo as he was riding his bike on Roland Ave. When police tested her at the district station, Cook had a BAC of .22, said Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. In Maryland, the legal limit is .08.
Cook, the second-ranking official in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, was identified as the driver of the Subaru that hit Palermo, who was riding in the bike lane in the 5700 block of Roland Ave. She left the scene of the crash before returning about 30 minutes later, and will also be charged in connection with that incident, Mosby said. Cook pleaded guilty to a previous DUI charge in 2010.
A warrant is out for Cook’s arrest, but she was not in custody when Mosby announced the charges at an 11 a.m. news conference. She is expected to turn herself in to city police Friday.
This is only the first legal step in the case. Once charges are filed, prosecutors said the case will go before a grand jury. More charges could be added or dropped at that point.
Asked about the time that elapsed between the crash and when charges were filed, Mosby countered that it was actually quick for the type of investigation involved.
“What the police department was able to do was rather expeditious,” she said.
Earlier this week, the Episcopal Diocese provided an abbreviated timeline of officials’ involvement in the aftermath of the crash. It did not include details about whether Cook had been drinking or texting, but did detail a call from Cook to a top aide of Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton saying she was “in shock.”
The Diocese put out the following statement from Sutton in the wake of the charges:
On behalf of everyone in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, please know that we are deeply heartbroken over this, and we cry for the Palermo family, our sister Heather and all in the community who are hurting,” Sutton said. “Our Lord Jesus would be a healing presence in the midst of this tragic situation, and we are seeking ways to walk in his footsteps in the days and months ahead. As we do so we are truly being the church, and we will always be guided by our core Christian values of personal accountability, compassion and respect for the rule of law.
The death of Palermo, 41, a much-loved bike mechanic and father of two, rocked North Baltimore, the local cycling community and beyond. A Ghost Bike now sits at the site of the crash to memorialize him.
Mosby, who assumed office as State’s Attorney this week, said she met with Palermo’s family prior to announcing the charges.
“I assured them no one is above the law,” she said.
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