UPDATED: December 30, 2014 2:59 p.m.
BALTIMORE (WNEW/AP) — The Episcopal Church of Maryland says its first female bishop was the driver in a hit-and-run crash that killed a bicyclist in Baltimore.
Diocese spokeswoman Sharon Tillman confirmed Monday that Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook was the driver in the Saturday afternoon crash in which 41-year-old Tom Palermo was killed.
According to court records, Cook has a history of driving under the influence. She was issued a citation in September 2010 for an incident in Caroline County. She pleaded guilty, receiving supervised probation and a fine. She was also charged with possession of marijuana and paraphernalia in the same incident, though those charges were later dropped.
The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland released this statement regarding Cook’s 2010 DUI on Tuesday, WJZ reports:
Saturday’s accident occurred in the 5700 block of Roland Avenue. When police arrived, they found Palermo suffering from life-threatening injuries. He was taken to a local hospital, where he later died.
In an email Sunday, diocese Bishop Eugene Sutton told clergy members that Cook initially left the scene but returned about 20 minutes later “to take responsibility for her actions.”
The Baltimore Police Department still has not confirmed that Cook was the driver. The department released this statement Monday afternoon:
“These investigations are complex and intricate, offering requiring detailed reconstruction and forensic examination. This is still a very active investigation that is being handled by our C.R.A.S.H. Team. In order not to jeopardize any potential prosecution, specific evidentiary details will not be released at this time. Everyone’s thoughts and prayers remain with the Palermo family. While there is significant public interest in this incident, the integrity of the investigation must be preserved.”
Neither Cook, 58, nor her attorney, David Irwin, responded to emails and calls for comment Monday.
After the crash, a small, makeshift memorial was erected by the roadside where Palermo was killed. The road included a designated bike lane.
Sutton said Cook was put on administrative leave “because the nature of the accident could result in criminal charges.”
“Together with the Diocese of Maryland, I express my deep sorrow over the death of the cyclist and offer my condolences to the victim’s family,” Sutton said. “Please pray for Mr. Palermo, his family and Bishop Cook during this most difficult time.”
According to the Episcopal Church of Maryland’s website, Cook was born in Syracuse, New York, and grew up in Baltimore. She was ordained with the Maryland diocese in 1987, and served in Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, according to the website.
She was elected as Episcopal Church of Maryland’s first female bishop in September.
In a statement after her election, Cook said she was profoundly moved to “finally coming home to serve in the diocese that formed me and is in my bones.”
She said she was looking forward to exploring “the proclamation of the life-giving Good News in a way that reaches across the generations.”
Police confirmed Monday that the driver of the car left the scene and returned later but declined to release the person’s identity, saying they would do so only if charges were filed.
A spokesman with the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office didn’t immediately respond to a request Monday about potential charges.
Chris Merriam, who’s active in Baltimore’s bicycling community, said Palermo, a father of two, was well-known among bicyclists in the area because he built custom bike frames.
“He was a craftsman,” Merriam said. “A lot of people owned frames built by him with loving care. He was a very talented guy, and a lot of people knew him.”
Bikemore, a cycling advocacy group in Baltimore, has released this statement on the accident:
“While details of the crash are still emerging, we know the driver of the car involved initially fled the scene, leaving Tom to die on the street. It is clear that dedicated bicycle lanes were not enough to keep even an experienced bicycle rider safe.
We urge the justice system to hold the driver who killed Tom accountable for her actions.
Bikemore will continue to advocate for Baltimore to follow the lead of other major cities and build physically-separated bicycle infrastructure to protect the growing number of people who ride bicycles for transportation and recreation.”
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