High-Ranking Episcopal Bishop Finally Charged for Killing Baltimore Cyclist

The killing of Baltimore cyclist Thomas Palermo by a high-ranking official in the Episcopal Church two days after Christmas has caught the attention of the national media, raising questions about justice, fairness, and accountability.

High ranking Episcopal church official Heather Cook faces 10 years in the drunken driving death of a Baltimore cyclist. Image: Baltimore PD via Baltimore Sun
High ranking Episcopal church official Heather Cook faces 10 years in the drunken driving death of a Baltimore cyclist. Image: Baltimore PD via Baltimore Sun

After declining to file charges immediately after the crash, the state’s attorney’s office finally announced on Friday that Bishop Heather Cook, the number two official at the local Episcopal Church diocese, will be charged with manslaughter, driving while impaired, and fleeing the scene of a fatal collision.

Cook, who has a record of drunken driving, returned to the crash scene half an hour after she fled. She still registered a blood alcohol level of 0.22 percent, about three times the legal limit. Officials also charge that she was texting at the time of the crash.

Khal at Los Alamos Bikes says the case speaks to our responsibility toward others, especially for those who in positions of spiritual leadership:

Unfortunately, the Bishop had a problem: when it came to driving drunk, she could not follow her own advice, as described in the Times piece from her own sermon, available on Youtube, and linked in the Times excerpt below (you can start at about the 6:50 mark):

In a sermon last year, Bishop Cook spoke about traffic safety and the consequences of unsafe driving. “My perception is that we live in the midst of a culture that doesn’t like to hold us accountable for consequences,” she said, “that somehow everybody gets a free pass all the time. Well, we do in terms of God’s love and forgiveness, but we don’t in many of the things that happen, and it’s up to us to be responsible.”

That’s the problem with our driving culture. We think we can screw it up and let God sort it out. Often enough, we only have that WWJD moment after we are facing the tragic consequences of our lax driving attitudes and find ourselves praying for forgiveness from a judge and jury, if not from our choice of deity or patron saint. Lesson learned? Heck, this is not the first such story. I hope, as a matter of penance, the local Episcopal Church takes a time out from its usual sermons to preach this story. Perhaps start with Matthew 25:40. Because it is not just sixteen time losers who kill or endanger. It’s the guy or gal in the mirror who lets his/her guard down, is in denial, or who thinks bad things happen only to those other people. And of course, its not just Episcopalians.

When a vulnerable Tom Palermo is riding his bike or crossing the street in front of you, How Would Jesus Drive? For that matter, how should you or I drive?

Elsewhere on the Network today: Strong Towns says streets should be designed so that driving at unsafe speeds actually feels unsafe. The Political Environment reports that the state of Wisconsin is using cuts to schools and healthcare as well as new fees to finance an unsustainable and ill-advised road building spree. And the State Smart Transportation Initiative writes that cities are taking the lead on an important new innovation in safety for trucks.


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