‘Not Your Fault’: Top Episcopal Bishop Reflects on Heather Cook’s Hit-and-Run Crash

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Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton (holycovenant.org)
Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton (holycovenant.org)

“There are still too many questions for which there are no easy answers, and we are filled with anger, bitterness, pain and tears,” Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton wrote in a pastoral letter released Tuesday.

Sutton, the leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, used the letter to reflect on the alleged Dec. 27 hit-and-run crash that killed cyclist Thomas Palermo on Roland Ave. He addresses the circumstances surrounding Heather Cook, the diocese’s Bishop Suffragan, who is currently in jail on charges of vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene, as well as being drunk and texting while driving.

Sutton writes that the Episcopal Church’s disciplinary process is still ongoing to determine Cook’s future status. The missive to the members of the Episcopal diocese is focused around “five important learnings” that the Bishop says are helping him through this time. In the final section, he recounts a prayer session with fellow clergy in which he confronted the issue head on. According to Sutton, another bishop spoke about being the child of an alcoholic, and said that the diocese is not responsible for Cook’s actions.

“I want to tell you that the Diocese of Maryland is not responsible for the terrible accident that killed that bicyclist,” the bishop said, according to Sutton. “You are not responsible for that; Heather Cook is. It’s not your fault.”

Sutton said he then burst into tears.

“I hadn’t realized how much I had internalized the weight of responsibility for the tragedy, the sense of shame, and the desperate need to make it all better,” Sutton wrote.

There may be more reckoning for diocesan officials. As part of their investigation into the matter, the church is looking the crash as well as  “the process that resulted in her election” as Bishop Suffragan in September. Cook previously pleaded guilty to a separate DUI arrest in 2010. Her BAC following that incident was measured at .27, which is more than three times the legal limit of .08.

Read the full letter.

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