BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Bicycle activist groups are voicing outrage over the possibility a former church leader could go free after serving just 18 months behind bars for killing a cyclist while drunk behind the wheel.
Heather Cook’s fall from grace came hard and fast. WJZ was there as the former Episcopalian bishop was lead away in handcuffs in late 2015.
“To find out that parole could come this quickly was really a shock,” says bicycle safety advocate Jon Korin with Bicycle Advocates For Annapolis & Anne Arundel County (BikeAAA.)
Just two days after Christmas in 2014, Cook was drunk, and at almost three times the legal limit when she slammed into Thomas Palermo, who was riding in the marked bike lane on Roland Avenue.
“This was a preventable death. Absolutely preventable death,” says Korin.
Many in the community were particularly upset because Bishop Cook did nothing to help Palermo, and left him for dead at the scene.
The judge sentenced cook to seven years, which Palermo’s family said then was too lenient.
“While no amount of prison time would seem sufficient, we feel the court today could have sent a stronger signal,” Tom Palermo’s sister-in-law Alisa Rock.
Because the crime is not considered one of violence, Cook only has to serve 25 percent of that sentence to be eligible for parole.
Bike Maryland sent a letter to the chair of Maryland’s parole commission stating:
“Eighteen months is just not long enough. This was not an accident, and the message sent to our community if she is paroled now will be that there are not severe enough consequences when you kill one of us when flagrantly violating the law and human decency.”
“It just seems grossly unfair and sends the wrong message to the broader community,” says Korin.
WJZ past investigation confirmed this was not the first drunk driving incident on Cook’s record. She was over more than three times the legal limit and arrested on the Eastern Shore back in 2010.
If she is given parole on Tuesday, it will not happen immediately — there may be conditions she may need to meet. If she is released, both parole members must be unanimous in their decision.
The hearing is at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday in Jessup, where Cook is being held. The parole board will not allow the media to attend the hearing.