BALTIMORE (WJZ) — She was the first female Episcopal bishop in the state of Maryland. Now Heather Cook pleads guilty in the drunken driving accident that left a cyclist and father dead.
WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren with how much time Cook will spend in prison, and reaction to the plea deal.
It’s up to the judge. The maximum allowed by law is 22 years. The plea deal calls for ten years. It’s likely she will at least serve some time in jail.
Former high-ranking Episcopal Bishop Heather Cook admitted to a judge she was driving drunk and texting when her Subaru slammed into avid cyclist and father of two Thomas Palermo as he rode his bicycle down Roland Avenue last December.
After pleading guilty, Cook let her lawyer do the talking outside court.
“She’s certainly not looking forward to the chance that she’s imprisoned, but the state’s recommendation is certainly a very heavy one,” said David Irwin, Cook’s lawyer.
Palermo was riding in the bicycle lane when he was hit and killed. Bishop Cook had a blood alcohol content of almost three times the legal limit.
The one time religious leader is an admitted alcoholic.
Cook has a history of drunk driving and after an arrest four years ago, authorities say she blew a 0.27, was unable to complete field sobriety tests, had vomit on her shirt and whiskey in the passenger seat of the same Subaru involved in the Palermo hit-and-run. She rode her tire down to the rim in that incident.
“It’s time for us as a community to send a strong message that we will not tolerate drivers who text on their smartphones or drive while intoxicated,” said Alisa Rock, Palermo’s sister-in-law.
Palermo’s family did not comment on the terms of the deal. It calls for Cook to serve ten years in prison with five years probation after that–but the judge can make his own decision during sentencing in October.
“Fifty-eight years of mostly leading a life that everyone could consider a model–a church person, a priest. They’re obviously mitigators, but none of them can reverse the tragedy of December 27,” Irwin said.
Cook left the scene of the accident not only once, but twice, and then came back a third time. When prodded by a friend, she talked to detectives.
At one point, she was the second highest ranking member of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.
Sentencing is October 27. Cook remains free on a $2.5 million bail.