Episcopal Diocese of Maryland

Baltimore Sun skips key angle in DUI bishop case: Why was Heather Cook using that cellphone?

Baltimore Sun skips key angle in DUI bishop case: Why was Heather Cook using that cellphone?

It made headlines at the end of 2014 and during 2015, and the DUI-linked vehicular homicide conviction of a now-former Episcopal bishop in Baltimore made news again last week.

Heather "DUI bishop" Cook, at one time the suffragan bishop of the Episcopal Church's Maryland Diocese, will remain in prison until at least 2020. She failed to gain early release at a parole hearing mandated by state law.

Cook, whose seven-month tenure as a bishop effectively ended with the December 2014 crash that killed cyclist Tom Palermo, expressed no remorse at the hearing, according to media reports. (She actually resigned on May 1, 2015, roughly one year after being elevated to the role.) The Baltimore Sun, which has been on top of the story since the accident, sums things up for us:

The Maryland Parole Commission on Tuesday denied the parole request of Heather Cook, the former Episcopal bishop who is serving a seven-year prison sentence for the drunken-driving crash that killed a bicyclist in 2014.
Commission chairman David Blumberg said the two commissioners who ruled on the case told him they denied Cook parole in part because she "took no responsibility" for her actions and displayed a "lack of remorse" during the 90-minute hearing at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup.
Cook's attorney for the hearing, Hunter L. Pruette, left without addressing reporters and could not be reached for comment.
Cook, 60, pleaded guilty in 2015 to charges of vehicular manslaughter, drunken driving, driving while texting and leaving the scene of an accident in the crash that killed 41-year-old Thomas Palermo on Dec. 27, 2014. She will no longer be eligible for parole.

The Sun report continues with a recapitulation of the case, as well as some of the comments made by Palermo's widow, Rachel, following the hearing. Watching this woman's statements -- see video above -- is painful. Two young children are without their father; a young wife was robbed of her husband. 

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Former Episcopal bishop Heather Cook is off to prison, but who took the financial fall?

Former Episcopal bishop Heather Cook is off to prison, but who took the financial fall?

It certainly appears, at this point, that the sad drama of former Maryland Episcopal bishop Heather Cook is over, at least the public part of this tragedy. She has been sentenced to seven years in prison for killing cyclist Thomas Palermo in a crash in which she was driving while drunk and distracted by the act of texting on her smartphone.

The Baltimore Sun report on the sentencing opens with gripping personal material about Cook and the Palermo family, and it's hard to fault the newspaper's staff for doing that.

But keep that smartphone in mind, because we will come back to it. You see, there was huge news in this story for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and the national Episcopal Church, but the Sun editors elected to bury it deep, deep, deep in the text.

I thought the following, near the top, was the most powerful passage, jumping right into the theodicy -- Where was God? -- angle of the story:

Prosecutors said Cook was far above the legal limit for alcohol and sending a text message as she drove her Subaru Forester in Roland Park on the afternoon of Dec. 27. She struck and killed Palermo, a 41-year-old software engineer and father of two young children, as he enjoyed a ride. She left the scene twice, a fact that weighed on judge Timothy J. Doory.

"Your leaving the scene at that time was more than irresponsibility, it was a decision," Doory said.

Cook, 59, pleaded guilty last month to automobile manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident and other violations.

Patricia Palermo told the court that she had asked God many times why he let her son die -- until she had a revelation.

"God didn't do this," she said. "Heather Cook killed Tom."

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Say what? Another revelation shreds the timeline in sad case of Bishop Heather Cook of Maryland (updated)

Say what? Another revelation shreds the timeline in sad case of Bishop Heather Cook of Maryland (updated)

First, a confession (as Great Lent approaches): I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian who lives in Maryland, which by definition means that I know many former Episcopalians. So from the beginning of the sad saga of the DUI Bishop Heather Elizabeth Cook, I have heard people trying to make sense of the timeline and trying to discern its impact -- spiritual, political and financial -- on the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

The working theory: Cook was a legacy case, the daughter of a powerful local priest (a recovering alcoholic who was a pioneer in ministry to alcoholics). It appears that Cook was an effective parish pastor and then, during a decade as an administrator in the quiet and well-bred Eastern Shore Diocese of Easton, her work load pushed her deep into drink. Thus, the horrible 2010 DUI episode involving burning rubber, vomit, a fifth of whiskey and some marijuana.

But she received treatment and the Diocese of Maryland, without letting all of the voters know about that DUI thing, selected her as a bishop. Then perhaps the stress returned? Thus, the strange sermon on bad habits and safe driving and then the fatal collision with a cyclist. She has been charged with criminal negligent manslaughter, using a texting device while driving, leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in death and three charges of drunken driving. Bail: $2.5 million.

But now there is this timeline shocker, care of The Washington Post and several other sources, including former GetReligionista George Conger, who now writes for The Media Project. The Post story opens with this:

The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland suspected that Heather Cook -- now charged in the drunken-driving death of a Baltimore bicyclist -- was drunk during her installation festivities this past fall, a new official timeline shows. ...

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Maryland drama: An Episcopal bishop, her DUI record, a dead cyclist and the 'above reproach' debates

Maryland drama: An Episcopal bishop, her DUI record, a dead cyclist and the 'above reproach' debates

Let's call it the "shoe on the other political foot" argument.

How many times have you heard media critics argue that a particular media outlet -- The New York Times is the villain of choice for the right and Fox News for the left -- might have covered a story or have covered said story more intensely if the sin or crime in question had been committed by a leader on the opposing side?

It's a popular argument, quite frankly, because it is often a valid argument. Why did so many newsroom feminists cut President Bill Clinton so much slack? Why do some conservatives still think Rush Limbaugh belongs in the choir of cultural conservatives?

The same thing happens with ecclesiastical shoes on the feet of powerful sinners. But this syndrome is not taking place, at the moment, in mainstream coverage of the tragic auto accident in which Episcopal Bishop Heather Elizabeth Cook of Maryland hit and killed 41-year-old cyclist Thomas Palermo, a father of two. Driven by powerful early coverage in The Baltimore Sun and follow-up work at The Washington Post, this story is now being pushed past the ugly details and into larger questions, both legal and theological.

The key questions: Was this a hit-and-run accident? What caused the bishop to hit a bike in such an open piece of road, with excellent sight lines? Should an earlier DUI -- involving alcohol and marijuana -- have prevented her selection as a bishop? Here is the gripping top section of the major Sun report:

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