[Episcopal News Service] A Baltimore grand jury has indicted Episcopal Diocese of Maryland Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook on 13 counts for allegedly causing the Dec. 27 car-bicycle accident that killed Thomas Palermo.
Five of the charges listed in the indictment handed down Feb. 4 by a Baltimore City grand jury come in addition to those Cook has faced since being charged Jan. 9 with four criminal offenses and four traffic violations.
The new charges include driving while under the influence of alcohol per se (a “per se” DUI charge involves drivers whose blood alcohol limit is above the .08% legal limit and can be charged with drunk driving even if their ability to drive does not appear to be impaired), driving under the impairment of alcohol, texting while driving, reckless driving and negligent driving.
The original criminal charges included manslaughter by vehicle, criminal negligent manslaughter by vehicle, homicide by driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol per se and homicide by driving a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol.
The traffic charges filed on Jan. 9 included failing to remain at an accident resulting in death, failing to remain at the scene of an accident resulting in serious bodily injury, using a text messaging device while driving causing an accident with death or serious injury, and driving under the influence of alcohol. The grand jury added to the two failure-to-stop offenses a charge of failure to stop the vehicle as close as possible to the scene of an accident.
Failing to remain at an accident resulting in serious bodily injury or death are both felony charges.
Cook faces a combined maximum penalty of at least 39 years in prison and a $39,000 fine, depending on whether her 2010 arrest and subsequent “probation before judgment” sentence is considered a first offense for any sentence she might receive if she were convicted of the charges of driving under the influence of alcohol and/or driving while under the influence of alcohol per se.
She is scheduled to be arraigned in Baltimore City Circuit Court on March 5.
When Cook was first charged in January she turned herself in later that day after an arrest warrant was issued. She was booked into jail and a $2.5 million bail was set. A judge later refused to lower the bail amount, according to news reports.
Mark H. Hansen bailed Cook out of jail on Jan. 25. He posted $35,000 in collateral and signed a $215,000 promissory note agreeing to pay $1,000 a month, according to the Baltimore Sun. The paper reported that the only condition of her release is that she not drive.
Cook returned that day to Father Martin’s Ashley, a drug and alcohol treatment facility near Havre de Grace, Maryland, where she had spent 12 days after the accident before being charged, according to Cook’s attorney, David B. Irwin.
In an autobiographical statement submitted as part of the search process that resulted in her being elected suffragan in May 2014, Cook called Hansen her “steady companion” and a “passionate Anglican.” She said that she and Hansen had dated in their 20s and reconnected in 2012. He currently works as a “lay pastor” at St. Clement’s Church in Massey, Maryland in the Diocese of Easton.
The Diocese of Maryland declined to comment on the indictment. Late last month, the Standing Committee and Bishop Eugene Sutton asked Cook to resign as an employee of the diocese. She has not yet responded to that request.
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter of the Episcopal News Service.