Episcopal bishop involved in bicycle crash has DUI record

Bishop involved in fatal crash has DUI record; has not been charged.

Moncure Lyon and other bystanders had stopped to help a badly injured cyclist on Roland Avenue on Saturday afternoon when a Subaru with heavy windshield damage drove by. Lyon wondered: Was this the car that had hit Thomas Palermo and left the scene?

There was only one way to find out. Lyon, 65, jumped on his Bianchi Steel Chromo bike and followed the vehicle as it drove away. He caught up with it at a stoplight and continued to follow as the car entered a nearby gated apartment community.

"I thought that car was involved in a potentially fatal hit-and-run of a biker, and I needed to get that license plate number," Lyon said Monday.

The driver — since identified by the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and her attorney as high-ranking bishop Heather Elizabeth Cook — would return to the scene. Palermo, 41 a married father of two young children, died of his injuries.

Cook has not been charged in connection with Saturday's crash in North Baltimore, and Baltimore police said an investigation was in its early stages.

Court records show Cook, who has spent 20 years as an Episcopal priest, pleaded guilty in 2010 to driving under the influence of alcohol in Caroline County. Cook registered 0.27 percent on a blood-alcohol test — more than three times the legal limit in Maryland — after that incident.

Baltimore police would not say whether alcohol was suspected to be a factor in Saturday's incident. Her attorney, David Irwin, said Monday it was too soon to offer any comment on his client's behalf.

Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton, the spiritual leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, informed clergy of the incident in an email Sunday.

Sutton told them that Cook "did leave the scene initially, but returned after about 20 minutes to take responsibility for her actions." He said Cook has been placed on administrative leave "because the nature of the accident could result in criminal charges."

Cook grew up in Maryland. Her father was the rector of Old St. Paul's, and she attended St. Paul's School for Girls. She earned a master's degree in divinity in 1987 from the General Theological Seminary in New York City in 1987, according to a biography posted on the diocesan website.

In September, Cook became Maryland's bishop suffragan — the No. 2 leader of the diocese, after Sutton — at a ceremony at the Church of the Redeemer on North Charles Street.

Sutton did not respond to questions about what actions, if any, the diocese took after Cook's 2010 arrest. She pleaded guilty, received probation before judgment and was ordered to pay a $300 fine, according to records.

A diocese spokeswoman told the Associated Press that Cook disclosed the charges when she was vetted to become a bishop.

Caroline County District Court records show Cook was arrested after police saw her driving under the speed limit on the shoulder of the road on a shredded tire at 2 a.m. The officer who pulled her over reported that the car smelled of burning rubber and alcohol, and he saw vomit on her shirt.

A bottle of wine, a fifth of Irish whiskey and two baggies were inside the car, police said. On the passenger seat in plain view was a "metal smoking device."

She was charged with possession of marijuana, but those charges were later dropped.

Cook told the officer she had been driving home from Canada and had stopped in Pennsylvania to have a few drinks, police said.

The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and Episcopal Diocese of Easton declined Monday to speak about her work for the church.

The crash Saturday occurred about 2:30 p.m. in the 5700 block of Roland Ave. in North Roland Park.

Palermo was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He lived in Anneslie, just over the city line in Baltimore County.

Lyon was riding on Roland Avenue when he came upon the injured Palermo. A car with a group of men had pulled over, and Lyon checked Palermo for a pulse. He couldn't find one. He said someone in the group saw a vehicle drive by that could have been involved in the crash.

Lyon jumped on his bike and pedaled in pursuit. When he caught up with the car at a stoplight, "I knew it had to be the car," he said. "The extent of the windshield damage was considerable — it was pushed in, and there was a hole."

He asked the driver if she was OK.

"She said 'Yes,' and before I could see anything, she pulled ahead," Lyon said.

Lyon said the car turned into the gated Elkridge Estates. He said a security guard allowed the vehicle to enter but stopped Lyon.

Cook returned to the scene and talked to police. Peter Duhig, a cyclist who also stopped at the scene, said she "seemed calm, collected."

Jason La Canfora, a motorist who arrived on the scene shortly after the crash and called 911, said Cook spent about 30 minutes in the back seat of a police cruiser.

La Canfora said he also saw a man wearing a jacket with a church crest at the scene with her. He said he appeared to be rearranging scheduled church events over the phone.

"He was saying, 'So-and-so is going to have to do this wedding, this service,'" La Canfora said.

Palermo was a Web designer who also built custom bike frames and repaired frames out of his barn as a side business, friends said.

He had a wife and two young children, a boy and girl, whom he "adored," said a friend, Jill DiMauro.

"I think the world is spinning a little off its axis now with him gone," DiMauro said.

Alisa Rock, Palermo's sister-in-law, lives about a half-mile from the crash scene. She said she was close to Palermo and her sister, gathering for birthdays and holidays, and baby-sitting their children.

She called him "an amazing person."

"Tom had a very quick wit," she said. "He was a funny man, he was quite smart and he had a really kind heart."

Palermo's family thanked friends, colleagues and the cycling community Monday "for their continued thoughts, prayers, and support during this difficult time."

"Tom leaves behind a dedicated wife, Rachel Rock Palermo, and their two beautiful children, ages 6 and 4," the family said in a statement. "He is the love of Rachel's life, a wonderful father, a much-loved son and a friend to many."

DiMauro said she met Palermo working in the bike department at the REI store in College Park. Palermo was one of her most dedicated volunteers when she opened her own bike shop, Proteus Bicycles.

DiMauro said she was afraid to ride on the road in a bike lane, and called unprotected lanes "dangerous."

"We've got to stop and think about what we're doing with sharing these roads with 3,000-pound weapons," she said. "These [bike lanes] work when people are perfect, and people aren't perfect."

Nate Evans, executive director of Bike Maryland, said he was surprised Palermo had been hit in the section of Roland Avenue near Lake Avenue, which is a popular route for cyclists because the road is fairly wide.

"Tom was an experienced bicyclist. The quality of the bike lanes are good there. It would be the safest place for him to be," Evans said.

Bike advocates say they had lobbied for a bike lane with a barrier and for a reduced speed limit on that stretch during a continuing road resurfacing project.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Monday that the crash illustrated the need to continue pressing forward with the city's Bicycle Master Plan, which aims to connect communities with a network of bike lanes and trails.

"My commitment is to learn from this tragedy and utilize those lessons in our efforts around smart, accessible, and safe bicycle routes across the City," the mayor said in a statement.

Adrienne Barnes, a spokeswoman for the city Transportation Department, said officials communicate regularly with biking groups and for the last several weeks have been working on a proposal to install a "buffered" bike lane on Roland Avenue between the sidewalk and parked vehicles "rather than having the bike lane adjacent to lanes of traffic."

The proposal has received "conceptual approval" within the department, Barnes said.

"We're very happy that this is moving in the right direction now," said Jed Weeks, president of a group called Bikemore. "It's a shame that the lanes were not already in place or already constructed."

Cyclists planned a memorial ride Monday night in Hampden to honor Palermo.

Baltimore Sun reporters Liz Bowie, Kevin Rector and Colin Campbell contributed to this article.

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