Baltimore City

Baltimore bishop got evaluations after DUI incident

Before being elevated to a position as a high-ranking bishop, Heather Elizabeth Cook was subjected to an extensive background check and psychological investigation regarding a 2010 drunken-driving incident, the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland said Tuesday.

"One of the core values of the Christian faith is forgiveness. We cannot preach forgiveness without practicing forgiveness and offering people opportunity for redemption," the diocese said in a statement about the search process for an elected bishop.


Cook — who in September became Maryland's bishop suffragan, the No. 2 leader of the diocese — was driving the car involved in Saturday's fatal crash on Roland Avenue. Bicyclist Thomas Palermo, 41, a married father of two, died of his injuries.

No charges have been filed in connection with the afternoon crash in North Baltimore, and police said an investigation was in its early stages.


"We, too are all filled with questions for which there are still no answers, and we are all filled with anger, bitterness, pain and tears," the diocese said in its statement. "Our thoughts and prayers right now are with Mr. Palermo, his family and friends, and the bicycling community. And, we continue to pray for Bishop Cook in this time of her tremendous grief and sorrow."

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

The church said in its statement, "After extensive discussion and discernment about the [2010] incident, and after further investigation, including extensive background check and psychological investigation, it was determined that this one mistake should not bar her for consideration as a leader."

Cook received probation before judgment and was ordered to pay a $300 fine, according to records.

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.

After Saturday's crash, Cook initially drove away from the scene but returned a short time later, according to the diocese. Another bicyclist followed her to a gated apartment complex.

Cook has been placed on administrative leave, according to church officials.


She has had close ties to the Episcopal Church since childhood.

Her father, the late Rev. Halsey M. Cook, became the rector of Old St. Paul's, one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious Episcopal churches, in 1961. Sixteen years later, the church's core value about forgiveness helped him publicly confront his alcohol addiction.

At a service in May 1977, he told parishioners that he is a "sheep, and this place and you people have often shepherded me." He further said, "I am an alcoholic."

The then-49-year-old told worshippers he would enter a Bel Air treatment center for a month, The Baltimore Sun reported in an article at the time about the service and his efforts to get help.

Church members had already supported him when he spent a month in a Minnesota hospital, he noted. "I was embarrassed for anybody in Baltimore to know," he explained back then, "so I snuck off quietly 1,400 miles away."

Halsey Cook, who died in 1989, served as rector at Old St. Paul's, at Charles and Saratoga streets, for 20 years. When he left to pursue a new career in business, he recalled that one of the highlights of his tenure was his family's move in 1964 — from a rectory in Guilford to the "Old Rectory" on Charles Street, which was first occupied by a St. Paul's minister in 1791.

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He used his position to help others battle addictions. Upon his death, The Sun reported: "One of the causes for which he was a dedicated spokesman and national leader within the Episcopal Church was a better understanding of and treatment of alcoholism in the ministry."

As the crash investigation continued, area bicyclists made plans to honor Palermo.

Bikemore Inc., which promotes biking in Baltimore, said it would hold a memorial ride and vigil on New Year's Day. The group has asked riders to meet at 3:30 p.m. at Bishop Square Park, at North Charles Street and East University Parkway. The park is near the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation.

After a moment of silence, riders will pedal to the crash scene; nonriders can meet at that location, the organization said. The group will then celebrate Palermo's life at Gallery 788 and De Kleine Duivel in Hampden.

Baltimore Sun reporter Jacques Kelly and researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.