Heather Cook sentenced to seven years in prison

[Episcopal News Service] Former Episcopal Diocese of Maryland Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook was sentenced Oct. 27 to seven years in prison for causing the Dec. 27, 2014 death of a Baltimore father of two.

Cook had pleaded guilty Sept. 8 to automobile manslaughter and three other criminal charges for causing the car-bicycle accident in suburban Baltimore that killed bicyclist Thomas Palermo, a 41-year-old software engineer at Johns Hopkins Hospital who also built custom bike frames.

The charges included driving the car that struck Palermo while having nearly three times the legal limit of alcohol in her blood system, texting while driving and then leaving the scene of the accident. She was originally accused of 13 charges relating to the fatal accident.

Judge Timothy Doory sentenced Cook after testimony about the impact of Palermo’s death from his mother, wife and sisters-in-law, according to the Baltimore Sun newspaper.

Cook addressed the Palermo family after their testimony. “I am so sorry for the grief and the agony I have caused,” she said, according to the Sun. “This is my fault. I accept complete responsibility.”

Attorneys for cook and the Palermo family said during the hearing that they had resolved any civil liability arising out of the fatal accident.

At the end of the hearing Cook was handcuffed and taken into custody. She had been free on $2.5 million bail since being charged


  1. Jeff Larason says:

    You are using incorrect language to describe this criminal event. This was not an “accident”. Please look it up. I don’t mean to imply that she intended to hit or kill. However, by driving drunk, by texting while driving, her crash was wholly predictable. A crash by someone drunk and texting is entirely expected. There is more than apparent fault in this case. This was not an act of God, this what an entirely avoidable tragedy.

    And if you hang your hat on “she didn’t intend to…”, then consider this; she intended to drink, she intended to drink and drive, she intended to break the law, she intended to text while driving drunk, and she intended to endanger the rest of us by doing these things.

    Please don’t use language that insults the victim. This was not an “accident”.

    • I agree with Mr. Larson 100 percent. I conduct an outpatient substance abuse program through my private practice,one of the points that is constantly being pointed out to the patients in the program is that they chose to drink or do drugs. Once they made that choice, they then chose the consequences for that behavior. None of them intended to get caught while drinking and driving or get caught while doing drugs and driving, but once they got behind the wheel of their car while impaired, they are also responsible for the consequences of that choice. I agree that this was not an accident, she chose to drive and text while impaired, to give her only 7 years for killing someone is a slap in the face for people like me who work diligently trying to get people who drive while impaired to accept the responsibility of their actions and get them off the road. With a sentence of only 7 years you set substance abuse programs back into the dark ages.

    • Rick Spring says:

      When we use absolutes, we are almost always wrong. They should be avoided if only for accuracy of speech/writing. Often they are also inflammatory (in this case not so much, but in general). Few incidents are “wholly” predictable; in this instance, many people behave the same way she did and have no incident and do not hurt or kill anyone; this in itself negates the “wholly” predictable statement. The “entirely avoidable” tragedy phrase is similar in nature. It clearly was a tragedy. She clearly could have minimized the possibility by behaving responsibly. Was it “entirely avoidable” in any set of circumstances? The absolutes would lead one to believe the answer is no. In no way can she be (legally) absolved of her responsibility for the tragedy. But neither can we when we use statements of an absolute nature, which can inflame attitudes and are generally inaccurate. I think most of us can do better if we think about what we are saying/writing.

    • Good post!

  2. Selena Smith says:

    Legally she was convicted of manslaughter and three other charges, meaning it was not pre-meditated, and she was sentenced according to the law by the judge for the crime(s). I wonder which clergy of the Episcopal Church are visiting her since the Episcopal Church claims in its worship and its policies to be there in for those who are poor, orphaned, widowed, disabled, in prison, etc. ? Maybe most are at the Installation of the next Presiding Bishop?

    • Ms. Smith,
      Do you have reason to believe that Bp. Cook has not been receiving the pastoral care of the Church? The anger in your note is almost palpable, the cause is not.

      • Ms. Smith, your question about the charity of others in regard to Heather Cook oddly excludes what you yourself might be doing for those who are in trouble through their own actions or by the vagaries of fate. You declare that your ministry is to audit the acts of others’ while we ‘others’ must ‘perform.’ You say that you ‘wonder,’ but to ‘wonder’ is not to ‘minister.’ In the depiction of that great day of Judgment, Jesus does not ask if we ‘wondered’ about those in prison, but did we ‘visit’ them. No, I have not visited Heather Cook; my ministry is many miles from her habitation. My personal ministry is the homeless; however, I have no idea if your keen sense of others’ responsibility would validate my homeless ministry. My wife has led group therapy sessions in both a men’s penitentiary and a women’s penitentiary. You will surely be comforted to know that you have found someone ‘out there’ who has attended to the imprisoned of God’s children. She fully embraces my concern for the homeless that cross our paths everyday. I believe if you will further formulate the spectrum of ministry, you may find more satisfaction in actively ministering, rather than the ennui of wondering what all those others are doing.for Heather Cook, who remains, of course, one of God’s children.

    • Nancy Platt says:

      There seems to be lack of information as to what happens when a person goes to prison.
      First of all there is a period of time which varies after admission in which visiting is very limited if at all.
      Secondly: the hours for visiting in Maryland are quite limited, only Thursday – Sunday on certain dates for an hour or less usually in a public room except for lawyers.
      Third: prisoners have to list the people they want to visit, even clergy cannot just wander in at will. The prisoners are expected to work on a daily basis as well.
      Prisons do have chaplains who provide pastoral care on a nondenominational basis.

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