Ex-Bishop Who Killed Cyclist While Driving Drunk Gets 7 Years

28 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A powerful and punishing finale in the Heather Cook case.

Cook, 59, pleaded guilty last month to automobile manslaughter in the death of 41-year-old Thomas Palermo, a married father of two young children. For seventy-five minutes, the women who knew and loved Tom Palermo — his mother, his mother-in-law, his wife, his sisters-in-law — spoke for him while the woman who had killed him, Heather Cook, sat motionless at the trial table eight feet away, taking a punishment that will make seven years in prison seem like blessed relief.

BALTIMORE — Former Episcopal Bishop Heather Cook received a seven-year prison sentence Tuesday for killing a cyclist in a drunken crash, after a two-hour hearing in which the victim’s family members directed their grief and anger at the disgraced clergywoman. Absolutely painful but absolutely necessary, the heartbreaking statements of the women from Tom Palermo’s life resonated with anyone who had ever raised a child, who had ever fallen in love, who had ever started a family, who had ever imagined a long life with a single spouse. Cook, far beyond the legal limit for alcohol and sending a text message as she drove her Subaru Forester, hit and killed 41-year-old cyclist Thomas Palermo on the Saturday after last Christmas.

It was a little after 2 p.m. when the victim impact statements started in Baltimore Circuit Judge Tim Doory’s drab, second-floor courtroom, with its old drapes, dirty windows and dingy shades. Many had called on Doory to order the maximum sentence of 20 years. “While no amount of prison time would ever seem sufficient, we feel the court today could have sent a stronger signal that our community takes driving while under the influence and driving while distracted seriously,” said Alisa Rock, one of Palermo’s sisters in law. Thomas Palermo’s loved ones wept during over an hour of emotional testimony, urging the judge to sentence Cook to prison: and that’s exactly what happened. Her sisters and her mother each delivered statements, and their words came in cascades of anguish and anger, offered in moderate tones, marked with details about the day of Palermo’s death last December on a Baltimore street that was supposed to be safe for bicyclists. Palermo’s mother, tearfully described the lingering emotional toll, including on the two children, 5 and 7. “This is my fault, I accept complete responsibility,” Ms.

A supporter described how Cook had successfully grown a parish in York, Pa., attracting so many new worshippers that the church had to build new facilities. Her mother, Frances Rock, spoke of Rachel and Tom’s 12 years together — the joy she experienced in watching them build a life and start a family, the horror of watching Rachel explain to her two children that their father wasn’t coming home. Frances Rock called Palermo’s death a “catastrophic loss” for the family. “Father’s Day was particularly hard,” she said, and so were Tom’s birthday in August and his and Rachel’s wedding anniversary in September. “Platitudes and cliches do little to lessen our loss,” she said.

Irwin countered that his client had not had any support to battle her alcohol addiction after that case, and despite staying sober for a year had relapsed. Irwin said she was unaware of the seriousness of the accident — “she’s confused, she’s inebriated, she’s texting” — but when she realized a person was involved she returned to the scene and found chaos already unfolding. Reading from her statement, she spoke to Cook without looking at her: “I can forgive you, but I cannot forget.” Then, the prosecutor, Kurt Bjorklund, read Rachel Rock Palermo’s statement as the young widow sat in the second pew of the courtroom gallery.

A statement from the diocese said “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.” Later, Thomas Palermo went out for a bike ride and was heading along Roland Avenue in Roland Park when Cook veered into the cycling lane, killing him almost instantly.

The last woman to speak for Tom Palermo was his mother, Patricia, who gave the full measure of the loss and spared none of us the details of her son’s death — how he had been struck so hard that his body had dented the hood of Cook’s car, how his head had slammed through the windshield, how his helmet had landed inside the car, how his body dropped into the street. She paused for 12 seconds to summon an apology to her lips, and it came up and out in soft tones — “Sorry for the pain and agony I have caused” — and Rachel Rock Palermo, never looking up, held her mother-in-law’s hand until it was over. Topics: t000002458,t000002478,t000027866,t000197766,t000027904,t000027855,t000003142,t000012815,t000003086,t000012821,t000205517,t000010070,t000200081,t000002827,t000412858,t000164057,g000362669,g000223633,g000219643,g000364106,g000362695

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