The No. 2 Episcopal bishop in the Diocese of Maryland has been placed on administrative leave after she was involved in a car crash Saturday that killed a bicyclist.
Bishop Heather Elizabeth Cook, who is the bishop suffragan, or second bishop for the diocese of Maryland, which is headquartered in Baltimore, left the scene but returned later “to take responsibility for her actions,” her bishop said in a statement.
Baltimore police said Monday that they are investigating a fatal car crash that killed Thomas Palermo, 41, a father of two and a computer specialist who ran a bike shop out of his garage. Palermo, whose family lives in Baltimore County, was on a recreational ride, said his brother-in-law, Jeff Hulting.
Police did not identify the driver, saying in a statement that they were interviewing a 58-year-old woman who “left the scene but returned back to the scene during the investigation.” No charges have been filed.
In an e-mail, police said they had received a number of requests for information about the accident but would not release any additional information at this time “in order not to jeopardize any potential prosecution.”
However, Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton, who leads the diocese, identified Cook as the driver.
In the letter, Sutton said Cook returned to the scene “after about 20 minutes to take responsibility for her actions.” However the Baltimore Brew reported that her car had been chased by other bikers and only returned because of that.
“It’s a terrible deal,” Hulting said of Palermo. “Maybe she just came to her senses and said, ‘I have to claim this,’ or maybe she realized, ‘I won’t be able to get away with it.’ ”
Cook was elected bishop suffragan in May and is the first female bishop in the diocese, which includes central, western and part of southern Maryland. Washington’s close-in Maryland suburbs are part of the Diocese of Washington.
Cook’s attorney, David Irwin, confirmed the investigation and said she was “distraught about the death of the cyclist, naturally. She is praying for him and his family.” Irwin said he had no comment on the specifics of what happened Saturday, saying he was “in the early stages of evaluating.”
Court records show that Cook received “probation before judgment” in 2010 for a drinking and driving charge on the Eastern Shore, where she worked before becoming a bishop. She had been charged at the time with possession of marijuana paraphernalia as well. But those charges were dropped, and she successfully completed her probation.
There was no indication Monday that alcohol or drugs were involved in Saturday’s crash.
Diocesan spokeswoman Sharon Tillman said Mondathat Cook had disclosed the 2010 charges when she was vetted and elected as a bishop.
Cook was put on administrative leave because of the investigation, Tillman said. Sutton was supposed to start a sabbatical this week, she said, but postponed it indefinitely.
Cook was ordained a priest in 1988. She served as a boarding-school chaplain at Stuart Hall School in Staunton, Va., and at churches in New York and Pennsylvania before coming to the Diocese of Easton on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, according to the Maryland Diocese’s Web site.