MD Diocese: Female bishop responsible in fatal cyclist hit-and-run

Published on Monday, 29 December 2014 10:43 - Written by AMANDA LEE MYERS, Associated Press

The first female bishop at the Episcopal Church of Maryland was the driver in a hit-and-run crash that killed a bicyclist in Baltimore, a diocese spokeswoman said Monday.

Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook, who's in the diocese's No. 2 spot, was driving the car that hit 41-year-old Tom Palermo on a sunny Saturday afternoon, diocese spokeswoman Sharon Tillman said. Palermo died at a nearby hospital.

In an email Sunday, diocese Bishop Eugene Sutton told clergy members that Cook initially left the scene but returned about 20 minutes later "to take responsibility for her actions."

Neither Cook, 58, nor her attorney, David Irwin, responded to emails and calls for comment Monday.

On Monday, a small makeshift memorial sat by the roadside where Palermo was killed. The road included a designated bike lane.

Sutton said Cook was put on administrative leave "because the nature of the accident could result in criminal charges."

"Together with the Diocese of Maryland, I express my deep sorrow over the death of the cyclist and offer my condolences to the victim's family," Sutton said. "Please pray for Mr. Palermo, his family and Bishop Cook during this most difficult time."

Police confirmed Monday that the driver of the car left the scene and returned later but declined to release her identity. Officials said they would do so only if charges were filed. They declined to discuss whether or when that might happen.

A spokesman with the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office didn't immediately respond to a request Monday about potential charges.

Chris Merriam, who's active in Baltimore's bicycling community, said Palermo, a father of two, was well-known among bicyclists in the area because he built custom bike frames.

"He was a craftsman," Merriam said. "A lot of people owned frames built by him with loving care. He was a very talented guy, and a lot of people knew him."

According to the Episcopal Church of Maryland's website, Cook was born in Syracuse, New York, and grew up in Baltimore. She was ordained with the Maryland diocese in 1987, and served in Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania and on Maryland's Eastern Shore, according to the website.

She was elected as Episcopal Church of Maryland's first female bishop in September.

In a statement after her election, Cook said she was profoundly moved to "finally coming home to serve in the diocese that formed me and is in my bones."

She said she was looking forward to exploring "the proclamation of the life-giving Good News in a way that reaches across the generations."

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