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Maryland Bishop Charged in Baltimore Hit-and-Run

The second highest ranking official in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland will be charged with manslaughter in a December 27 crash that killed a cyclist, according to a Baltimore prosecutor.

The second highest ranking official in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland will be charged with manslaughter in a December 27 crash that killed a cyclist, according to a Baltimore prosecutor.

Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook is accused of driving under the influence resulting in a homicide, vehicular manslaughter, criminal negligent manslaughter, texting while driving and fleeing the scene of an accident. A breathalyzer test showed Cook’s blood alcohol level was .22 following the accident. If found guilty, Cook could face a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment for each charge of manslaughter and driving away from the accident.

Baltimore City State’s attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, sworn in as Baltimore’s top prosecutor Thursday night, made the announcement at a news conference this morning in Baltimore. A warrant will be issued for Cook’s arrest, prosecutors said.

The Episcopal Church has also launched its own investigation under the church’s disciplinary canons. It is unclear if Cook was engaged in church business at the time of the accident, but if she was, the diocese could be potentially vulnerable to a civil suit in the death of 41-year-old cyclist Thomas Palermo.

Church spokeswoman Neva Rae Fox told the Baltimore Sun on Thursday that church officials will look at the process used for vetting candidates for bishop positions, but that the church is still waiting to learn information about the incident involving Cook.

“There is a process that guided the search committee. Everything is being looked at right now. We have no answers yet,” Fox said.

The charges come as the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council gathers for a quarterly meeting beginning today at the Maritime Institute in nearby Linthicum, Maryland.

Diocese of Maryland officials have acknowledged that delegates who elected Cook in May were not told that she had been charged with driving under the influence of alcohol in 2010, an incident in which her blood alcohol level was .27 and she was found in possession of an open whiskey bottle, two bags of marijuana and marijuana smoking paraphernalia. The information was disclosed to a search committee that vetted candidates, but was not relayed to bishops and standing committees across the church that consented to her election.

Members of Baltimore’s cycling community have called for Cook’s prosecution, providing regular updates on the page “Charge Bishop Heather Cook with Homicide” which has over 2,500 followers.

“There should be little doubt that anyone who crashes into a person properly riding their bicycle in a designated bike lane would be ‘in shock’ at having caused such a horrible circumstance to occur. Being in shock, however, does not explain someone’s moral depravity in refusing to stop and provide or seek help for the person they struck,” wrote Towson resident Keith Franz in a letter published in the Baltimore Sun on Friday. “For a religious leader like Bishop Suffragan Heather Elizabeth Cook to leave the scene of a crash and drive herself home leaving Thomas Palermo lying in the street and dying from his injuries — no amount of shock excuses this complete lack of moral responsibility.”

The accident quickly became international news, with the Associated Press, Washington Post, BBC and London Daily Mail all providing coverage in the days following the accident. The Episcopal News Service, the church’s official mouthpiece, published online its first article about the investigation on January 8, twelve days after the incident.

Church officials are expected to address the developments during amedia conference planned for Sunday, January 11, the last day of the Executive Council meeting.

Reprinted with permission from the author from Juicy Ecumenism.

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