[Episcopal News Service] Heather Cook, formerly Episcopal Diocese of Maryland bishop suffragan, has asked the Maryland prison system to release her for a daytime work program.
Her request is being reviewed, and if approved, Cook could begin the unspecified work within a few weeks, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Cook is serving a seven-year prison sentence for fatally striking a bicyclist on Dec. 27, 2014, while texting and driving drunk, and then leaving the scene.
The Maryland Parole Commission denied her May 2017 request for parole after a hearing at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup, where Cook, 61, has been serving her sentence since October 2015. In May of this year, she was denied her request to serve the rest of her sentence on home detention.
Cook pleaded guilty in September 2015 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. He was married and the father of two young children.
The charges included driving 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. Cook originally faced 13 charges relating to the fatal accident. She had been previously arrested in 2010 on an impaired-driving charge.
In the aftermath of Cook’s crime, the Episcopal Church began to take a deeper look at the way it handles impairment of various kinds at every level and stage. As a result, the recent 79th General Convention passed three resolutions calling for mandatory training on alcohol, substance misuse and other forms of addiction for those in the ordination process and for all priests and deacons; a team established by the presiding bishop to respond to impairment issues, give confidential advice and help monitor a person’s recovery; and an evaluation by the Executive Council and the House of Bishops of their policies and practices surrounding alcohol and substance during their gatherings.
Resolution A148, also passed by convention, which among other things says that every bishop nominee should be evaluated for substance, chemical and alcohol use and abuse. For a bishop-elect, those findings must be included in the information sent to bishops and diocesan standing committees that are required to consent to that person’s election.
Diocese of Maryland Assistant Bishop Chilton R. Knudsen, known as an expert in addiction and recovery with clergy and congregations, chaired the bishops’ legislative committee on churchwide leadership.
Alisa Rock, a sister of Palermo’s wife, emailed The Sun to say his family opposes Cook’s latest application.
Under Maryland law, Cook was eligible for parole after serving a quarter of her sentence. She reached that date in July 2017. The Sun reported that Cook has been earning 10 days off her sentence each month by working in the prison sew shop for Maryland Correctional Enterprises, an arm of the department that hires people while they are incarcerated. She would continue to earn those days on a work-release program.
Cook’s current release date is in late August of next year, according to a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.