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Md. Bishop Charged In Death Of Cyclist Tom Palermo

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Bishop Heather Cook surrenders to police after being indicted on charges after she struck and killed a cyclist in Roland Park.

Investigator Mike Hellgren has more on the long list of charges she now faces.

Bishop Heather Cook has turned herself into authorities. A warrant had been issued for her arrest. She faces a slew of charges, including manslaughter and more than 20 years behind bars if she's found guilty.

Prosecutors say Bishop Heather Cook, the second in command of Maryland's Episcopal church, was drunk and texting when she hit cyclist and father of two Tom Palermo.

He was dying when the state's attorney says Bishop Cook left the scene.

READ: Hundreds Honor Fallen Bicyclist Thomas Palermo | Bishop Was 'In Shock' After Fatally Striking Cyclist With Car

"This is a very tragic incident. I had the opportunity to speak with the family yesterday and I've ensured them that we're going to pursue justice," said Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby.

Palermo's family said in a statement they were deeply saddened to learn what happened and they want the bishop held accountable.

Our family greatly appreciates the focus that Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby and her team have given to the investigation surrounding the events that led to the death of Tom Palermo on December 27, 2014. She confirms that a thorough, careful investigation has been underway and that this matter is receiving the very serious attention that it deserves.

We are deeply saddened to learn of the events leading up to the senseless hit-and-run accident that claimed Tom's life, and support the prosecutor's efforts to hold Bishop Heather Cook accountable for her actions to the fullest extent of the law.

As we continue to grieve the loss of Tom, we ask that our privacy be respected. We reiterate our heartfelt appreciation for the outpouring of support we have received from friends, neighbors, colleagues, cyclists, and the community.

New state's attorney Marilyn Mosby says Cook drove home, waited half an hour to return and was taken for a breathalyzer. She had a blood alcohol content almost three times the legal limit -- 0.22.

Mosby said even though the religious leader was not immediately arrested, she did not get special treatment.

"The course of action in which we took is the normal course of action when we deal with manslaughter and homicide cases," said Mosby. "No one is above the law."

READ: Charging Documents Against Bishop Heather Cook

Cook has a history of drunk driving.

After an arrest four years ago, authorities say she blew a 0.27, was unable to complete field sobriety tests, had vomit on her shirt and whiskey in the passenger seat of the same Subaru involved in the Palermo accident. She rode her tire down to the rim in that incident.

"It's tragic to begin with, but the fact that texting while driving and drunk driving just makes it folds worse," said cyclist Nathan Greene.

Bishop Cook gave a recent sermon about personal responsibility.

bishop cook

Church leaders say they are heartbroken and the disciplinary process against the bishop has begun, but her toughest battle could be in criminal court.

"I want to thank the Baltimore Police Department and the State's Attorney's office for the thoroughness and care by which they have handled and investigated this case," The Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton said in the statement.

"On behalf of everyone in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, please know that we are deeply heartbroken over this, and we cry for the Palermo family, our sister Heather and all in the community who are hurting," Sutton said. "Our Lord Jesus would be a healing presence in the midst of this tragic situation, and we are seeking ways to walk in his footsteps in the days and months ahead. As we do so we are truly being the church, and we will always be guided by our core Christian values of personal accountability, compassion and respect for the rule of law."

Cook is being held on $2.5 million bail. The church says it was aware of the breathalyzer test, but the police asked them to withhold that information.

According to charging documents, a witness corroborated Cook was texting and that Tom Palermo was in the bike lane when he was hit.

tom palermo

The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland is asking its parishioners and the public to keep the Palermos and the cycling community in their prayers. They also ask people to donate to the Palermo Children's Educational Trust.

The diocese says it's cooperating with the Episcopal Church's internal investigation concerning Cook as a clergy leader. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will handle any disciplinary actions related to Cook's actions under the Title IV for the section of the Church's Constitution.

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