BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Former Episcopal Bishop Heather Cook is heading to jail. The former top religious leader in Baltimore is sentenced to seven years for killing a cyclist in Roland Park while texting and driving drunk.
Investigator Mike Hellgren has the emotional statement from the victim’s family.
This was an emotional sentencing hearing. The family had pushed for a harsher sentence; they wanted 10 years, which is what the prosecution requested. In the end, Cook was sentenced to five years for the death of Thomas Palermo and two years for leaving the scene.
Thomas Palermo’s loved ones wept during over an hour of emotional testimony, urging the judge to sentence Cook to prison: and that’s exactly what happened.
Palermo’s mother told Cook she had sentenced her to a lifetime of grief and heartbreak when Cook, drunk by almost three times the legal limit and texting, slammed into Palermo as he rode his bike on Roland Avenue two days after Christmas last year.
Palermo’s widow described the pain of their two young children when she told them Daddy would never come home again. Making matters worse, Cook left the scene. As Palermo’s mother noted, “You left my son to die alone.”
“While no amount of prison time would ever seem sufficient, we feel the court today could have sent a stronger signal that our community takes driving under the influence and driving while distracted seriously,” said Palermo’s sister-in-law.
Tuesday night, Cook was led out of court in handcuffs, sentenced to prison for seven years. She received thirteen years with all but seven years suspended. The judge told her this is not her final judgment and that would soon come for all of us.
This is not Cook’s first offense. She drove drunk on a shredded tire on the Eastern Shore in 2010.
Tuesday, her fall from grace was hard as she turned to address Palermo’s family saying, “I am so sorry for the pain and agony I’ve caused. This is my fault; I accept complete responsibility. I wish there was something I could do or say to make things better. I have often felt that I do not deserve to be alive.”
Some of the most powerful words came from Palermo’s mother, who said, “God didn’t do this. Heather Cook took my son.”