Bishop charged in fatal crash to remain in jail

Attorney says bishop charged in fatal crash can't post $2.5 million bail.

Episcopal Bishop Heather Cook, who has been accused of killing a bicyclist while driving drunk and texting, is expected to remain jailed after a judge on Monday upheld her $2.5 million bail — an amount her attorney says she cannot post.

District Court Judge Nicole Pastore Klein rejected a request from prosecutors to deny bail, but also disagreed with Cook's attorney that her bail should be lowered. Klein said the allegations against Cook show a "reckless and careless indifference to life."

"I can't trust her judgment if released," Klein said.

Cook, 58, was arrested Friday and charged with manslaughter and other offenses related to the crash that killed bicyclist Thomas Palermo, 41, in North Baltimore last month. Her initial bail was set by a District Court commissioner that night.

Cook, who is being held at Central Booking, appeared in court Monday afternoon via a video link. She wore a pink jumpsuit and was brought in separately from other defendants, while most defendants are escorted in groups. Her attorney, Jose A. Molina, said he didn't know why she was treated differently.

She did not make any statements in court.

At the hearing, Molina disclosed that after the crash Cook entered a 28-day treatment program at Father Martin's Ashley in Havre de Grace. She had been in the program for 12 days when prosecutors filed charges against her, he said.

Molina asked Klein to lower Cook's bail to $500,000 and allow her to continue with residential treatment or home monitoring. He promised she would not drive.

Assistant State's Attorney Kurt Bjorklund asked Klein not to allow Cook to post bond at all. He pointed to her drunken-driving arrest in 2010 on the Eastern Shore, in which Cook registered a 0.27 blood alcohol level and was driving her vehicle on a shredded tire.

Court officials said Cook spent six months in an alcohol-abuse program after pleading guilty in that case and receiving probation.

Cook was the first woman elected to the position of bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. As bishop suffragan, she is the second-ranking official in the diocese.

Church officials said Cook disclosed her 2010 charges when she was vetted by a search committee to become a bishop, though they later said that delegates who voted in the election on several bishop candidates last May were not aware of the case.

Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton, head of the diocese, has defended the decision to move Cook forward as a candidate after church officials learned of the DUI charge, saying the church must practice forgiveness and offer second chances.

The December crash that killed Palermo, a father of two, occurred on the afternoon of Dec. 27. Cook is alleged to have been drunk and sending text messages when she struck Palermo, who was riding in a bike lane on Roland Avenue.

"Essentially, she was driving blind down the road," Bjorklund said.

Cook left the scene, and Bjorklund said Monday that witnesses told investigators that she only returned 30 minutes later after speaking to others who urged her to go back to the scene. Her breath-alcohol level was 0.22, officials have said, which is nearly three times the legal limit in Maryland. That test was conducted after she was taken to a police station.

"She does not respect the fact that she cannot drive a vehicle while intoxicated," Bjorklund said. "She cannot be trusted to not drive a car under the influence."

He also argued that she was a flight risk.

Klein kept the bail set at $2.5 million. After the hearing, Molina said he did not anticipate Cook would be able to post the amount required.

"It's essentially no bail," he said.

Molina said he was "disappointed" in the ruling.

"I disagree with the notion that she's a flight risk," he said.

A hearing is set in the case for next month, though the next step is expected to be an indictment. Cook can appeal the bail amount to a circuit judge, though bail decisions are rarely overturned.

jfenton@baltsun.com

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