Former bishop Heather Cook convicted in cyclist's death to become eligible for parole

Heather Elizabeth Cook, the former Episcopal bishop who pleaded guilty to four criminal charges in the December 2014 crash that killed a bicyclist in North Roland Park, is eligible for parole next month.

Cook pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident, driving under the influence and texting while driving in the incident. She was sentenced to seven years in prison on Oct. 27, 2015.

A parole hearing for Cook, 60, will be held May 9 at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup, where she has been held since her sentencing, said Gerard Shields, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Because Maryland law does not classify vehicular manslaughter as a violent offense, Shields said, Cook becomes eligible for parole once she has served 25 percent of her sentence.

"I can relate to people who think it feels soon," he said. "It does feel like all this just happened yesterday."

Cook was driving south on Roland Ave. two days after Christmas, 2014, when she drove her 2001 Subaru into a bike lane, striking Thomas Palermo, a 41-year-old married father of two, who was cycling in the same direction.

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby alleged that a breathalyzer measured Cook's blood-alcohol level at 0.22 percent — nearly three times the legal limit in Maryland — more than 30 minutes after the crash.

Cook had pleaded guilty to a 2010 drunk-driving charge on the Eastern Shore in which she registered a blood alcohol level of 0.27 percent. In that incident, police said they found marijuana and empty liquor bottles in her car and that Cook had been driving on a shredded tire. 

The Palermo case roiled the city's cycling community and the national Episcopal church, and it triggered scrutiny of the Episcopal diocese, which had elevated Cook to its second-highest position in May of 2014.

That September, Katherine Jefferts Schori, then presiding bishop of the national church, presided at the ceremony during which Cook was consecrated as bishop.

Diocesan officials said the search committee was aware of the 2010 case but said committee members were unfamiliar with its details.

Deciding it was a "one-time mistake," the panel left it up to Cook to tell her electors about it. Officials have said she alluded to the case in parish meetings but only in vague terms.

Cook, the first female bishop in the history of the diocese, resigned her position on May 1, 2015. She entered her guilty pleas that September.

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

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