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Hit-and-run bishop faces 20 years

16 January 2015

RICHARD SCHORI

CHARGES of manslaughter, drunk-driving, and texting while driving resulting in an accident, have been brought against the Suffragan Bishop of Maryland, the Rt Revd Heather Cook.

A collision between Ms Cook and a cyclist, Thomas Palermo, on 27 December, resulted in his death (News, 2 January).

Last Friday, Baltimore State's Attorney, Marilyn J. Mosby, listed several charges against Bishop Cook, including manslaughter, driving under the influence resulting in a homocide, and use of a text-messaging device while driving, resulting in an accident. Bishop Cook is also charged with several traffic-law violations, including failing to remain at the scene of the accident.

It is alleged that, while texting, she veered out of a traffic lane and into a cycle lane, striking Mr Palermo, who hit the hood and windshield of her car, before being thrown to the kerb. It is alleged that she did not remain at the scene, but travelled back 30 minutes later, going to her home before returning to the scene of the accident. She was picked up by the police, who gave her a breathalyser test, resulting in a 0.22 reading: nearly treble the legal limit in Maryland.

Bishop Cook (above), who was arrested last Friday. On Thursday she was released from prison after posting bail of $2.5 million, the Baltimore Sun reported. It states that a bondsman paid the bail after receiving a cheque for $35,000 from Mark Hansen, a former Episcopal priest who now runs the St Paul's Trust in America. It is reported that she has gone for treatment at an inpatient treatment facility, and that a condition of her release is that she may not drive. Her solicitor, Jose A. Molina, said that, after the crash, she started a 28-day treatment programme at Father Martin's Ashley, an addiction treatment centre in Havre de Grace.

She could be imprisoned for more than 20 years. 

Bishop Cook pleaded guilty in 2010 to driving under the influence of alcohol: she was driving with more than three times the legal limit of alcohol in her blood. She pleaded guilty, received probation before judgment, and was ordered to pay a $300 fine. Although Bishop Cook disclosed this information when vetted by a search committee, it was not revealed to the clergy and lay delegates who elected her in May.

A statement issued by the diocese of Maryland on 30 December said: "After extensive discussion and discernment about the incident, and after further investigation, including [an] extensive background check and psychological investigation, it was determined that this one mistake should not bar her for consideration as a leader. . .

"We cannot preach forgiveness without practicing forgiveness and offering people opportunity for redemption."

In a statement issued last Friday, the diocese said that it "reaffirms its respect for the course of action the legal system is taking and prays for a just outcome in this case".

The Bishop of Maryland, the Rt Revd Eugene Taylor Sutton, said: "We are deeply heartbroken over this, and we cry for the Palermo family, our sister Heather, and all in the community who are hurting . . . We will always be guided by our core Christian values of personal accountability, compassion, and respect for the rule of law."

An internal investigation is being carried out by the Episcopal Church. Disciplinary proceedings, led by the Presiding Bishop, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, began on 2 January.

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