BALTIMORE (WJZ) — There’s new information about the driver behind the wheel of an accident that killed a cyclist in north Baltimore. She’s a high-ranking member of the Episcopal Church—who once pleaded guilty in a DUI case.
Mike Hellgren has more.
“It will be my special care to nurture all God’s people,” said Heather Cook on Youtube.
The Episcopal diocese confirms high-ranking Bishop Heather Cook was driving the Subaru Forester that hit bicyclist Thomas Palermo Saturday afternoon in Roland Park.
The diocese sent an email to clergy saying “Bishop Cook did leave the scene initially, but returned after about 20 minutes to take responsibility for her actions. Because of the nature of the accident could result in criminal charges, I have placed Bishop Cook on administrative leave, effective immediately.”
“It makes you very anxious,” said avid biker Rachel Beck, who lives near the scene of the accident.
Beck watched as Cook returned to the scene.
“To me, she looked disoriented at the moment,” Beck said. “Not with that damage to your windshield. How could you not know that you hit somebody? More than half of her windshield was crushed. The police put her in the car and took her away.”
Palermo was an avid cyclist. He made bicycle frames and had two children.
WJZ reached out to Palermo’s family. They said it’s too early to talk but they are working on making a formal statement.
Cook is Maryland’s first female bishop. WJZ has learned she was charged with DUI and marijuana possession four years ago. The marijuana charge was dropped but she was given supervised probation for the DUI. Her attorney declined to comment about the bicycle accident, saying it was too early.
Greg Hinchliffe is executive director of Bikemore, a cyclist advocacy group.
“We wonder, `Geez, could that have been me? I ride that stretch often,'” he said. “There’s shock; there’s anger. There’s a lot of leaping to conclusions.”
Although charges have not been filed against Cook, but two groups of cycling advocates believe they should be.
One group has started a social media campaign “Justice For Tom Palermo” on Facebook, in which they are asking that Cook be charged with homicide.
On the group’s Facebook page, they describe Palermo as a father, husband and a graduate of Maryland and St. Joe’s Prep. They say because Cook initially left the scene, leaving Palermo fatally injured in the roadway, she should be charged.
They are demanding supporters call the State’s Attorney for Baltimore and demand Cook be charged.
Bikemore, a Baltimore Bike Advocacy group, also released a statement about Palermo’s death on Sunday, calling for charges against cook.
“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Tom Palermo, who was killed while riding his bicycle on Roland Avenue. Tom was a passionate bicycle builder, a father and a friend to many people who ride bicycles in Baltimore,” Jed Weeks wrote in a post on their site.
“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,” Weeks continued. “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,” the post reads.
Police have declined interviews and say they won’t release details that could jeopardize any potential prosecution.
In a statement they said:
We have received a number of requests for information regarding the fatal accident involving the cyclist in the 5700 block of Roland Ave., this past Saturday. 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. The identity of the driver and other specific information about the incident will not be confirmed 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.
Cycling advocates held a vigil in honor of Palermo Monday night as well as a memorial bike ride. Another one is planned for Jan. 1, 2015.
“It just leaves you speechless and you just well up with sadness. It’s just awful. It’s so awful. That poor family,” Beck said.
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