The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland has called for the resignation of Bishop Suffragan Heather Elizabeth Cook who was involved in a fatal car accident on Dec. 27. The diocese sent a letter to Cook’s lawyer on Tuesday explaining the standing committee has unanimously agreed she is “no longer able to function effectively” in her position.
Cook, who became Maryland’s first female Episcopal bishop when she was ordained in September, did not immediately respond publicly to the call for her resignation.
The 58-year-old New York state native was accused of hitting 41-year-old bicyclist Thomas Palermo with her car on Dec. 27 while driving in Baltimore. Authorities charged Cook with vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence and texting while driving, among other charges.
She initially left the scene but returned about 30 minutes later. Authorities said she blew a .22 blood-alcohol level – nearly three times the legal limit.
This isn’t Cook’s first run-in with the law. In 2010, Cook was pulled over after police found the front passenger tires of her car were shredding and had fallen off the rim. Her blood-alcohol level at the time registered 0.27. She was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana and drug paraphernalia possession, reckless driving, negligent driving, among other charges. Cook was arrested and later released on her own recognizance. The charges were dropped in 2012.
The diocese said they were aware of Cook’s prior arrest. Cook, who was ordained as a priest in April 1988, had “fully disclosed” it during the search process, the diocese wrote in a Dec. 30 statement on its website.
“After extensive discussion and discernment about the incident, and 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,” the statement said.
However, the convention that elected Cook last year, was not aware of her prior arrest, Sharon Tillman, the diocese’s director of communications, told the Episcopal News Service on Jan. 9.
A suffragan bishop is subordinate to the metropolitan or diocesan bishop and is the second-highest rank in a diocese, which is an administrative region of the church.