Bishop Will Be Charged With Manslaughter in Death of Bicyclist
New Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced Friday that the Episcopal bishop who, according to prosecutors and church officials, struck and killed a bicyclist over the holidays on Roland Avenue, will be charged with manslaughter.
A Johns Hopkins Hospital software engineer and part-time bike builder well known in the bicycling community, Thomas Palermo, 41, was a married father of two children.
A warrant will be issued for Bishop Heather Cook’s arrest, prosecutors said.
Criminal charges filed in District Court today:
- Negligent Manslaughter by vehicle (Max 10 years and/or $5,000 fine)
- Criminal Negligent Manslaughter by vehicle (Max 3 years and/or $5,000 fine)
- Negligently Driving Under the Influence resulting in a Homicide (Max 5 years and/or $5,000 fine)
- Negligent Homicide involving an Auto or Boat while Impaired (Max 3 years and/or $5,000 fine)
Traffic charges also filed:
- Duty of Driver to remain at the scene of an accident resulting in Bodily Injury
- Duty of Driver to remain at an Accident resulting in Death
- Use of a Text Messaging Device while Driving causing an Accident with Death or Serious Bodily Injury
- Driving under the Influence of Alcohol
According to a statement released to the press, Cook’s blood alcohol level was .22 at the time of the Saturday afternoon crash and that Cook veered into the bike lane that Palermo was riding in. Prosecutors allege that Cooke “failed to remain at the scene,” returning to her apartment before coming back to the scene where she was transported by Baltimore City Police to Central District and given a breathalyzer test.
Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, emailed clergy members on the same day as the the crash, acknowledging that Cook, 58, the diocese’s second-ranking official, was the driver in the fatal collision. The diocese also released a statement today after Mosby’s announcement of the charges against Cook, thanking prosecutors and police for their “thoroughness and care” in handling the investigation, as well as stating they are “fully cooperating with the Episcopal Church’s internal investigation concerning Cook’s conduct as a clergy leader.”
Sutton also confirmed that Cook “did leave the scene initially,” returning 20 minutes later “to take responsibility for her actions.” Subsequent accounts, reported by the Baltimore Brew, put the time it took for Cook to return at 40-45 minutes. Also, according to several reports, at least one bicyclist followed Cook’s car as it left the Roland Avenue area, attempting to identify the vehicle.
Palermo was alive when police arrived and was taken to Sinai Hospital where he later died.
It’s since been learned that Cook pled guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol in 2010 in Caroline County, receiving supervised probation before judgment. She was also initially charged with possession of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia as part of that incident, but those charges were later dropped (“nolle prosequi,” according to online court records).
On New Year’s Day more than 700 bicyclists gathered in Bishop Square Park, adjacent to the Episcopal Diocese’s Cathedral of the Incarnation on University Avenue, for a memorial ride to the scene of the tragic collision that took Palermo’s life.
Among those speaking briefly at the vigil at the site of the crash at 5700 Roland Ave. were Nate Evans, of Bike Maryland, Greg Hinchliffe, of Bikemore, and Jeff Hulting, Palermo’s brother-in-law, who talked about Palermo’s passion for cycling.
Hulting said that with two young kids, a full-time job, as well as his small custom bike building business, his brother-in-law hadn’t had been able to ride as much as he’d like in recent years.
“Last Saturday was a beautiful day and Rachel [Palermo’s wife], realizing how busy they had been, suggested to Tom that he do what he loved and and go out for a ride,” Hulting said.
Bikemore and Bike Maryland released a joint statement following Mosby’s announcement of the charges against Cook:
“On the behalf of citizens in Baltimore and across the state, Bike Maryland and Bikemore appreciate the efforts of the Baltimore Police Department and State’s Attorney’s office in pursuing justice for Tom Palermo and his family. The death of a bicyclist in a car collision is a terrible event, but preventable if all road users slowed down and committed their full attention to the operation what can be a deadly weapon when wielded incorrectly.
When drivers choose to drive distracted and impaired, they are completely disregarding the value of the people around them. They choose that the cell phone call, the text message, or the time spent sobering up, is more valuable than the lives of the people they may kill or injure. This is a choice, and our society cannot tolerate it when they choose to drive impaired. Children buckled in the backseat, pedestrians crossing the crosswalk, and bicyclists using the bike lane are in peril when our community allows this to happen. We stand with the State’s Attorney’s office as they make a stand against distracted and negligent drivers.
We would like to remind everyone that when you hit-and-run you are choosing to deny that victim immediate care. Slow down; pay attention; and treat all vulnerable road users like you love them…because someone does.”