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Reverend Charged In Fatal Hit-and-Run Banned Indefinitely From Church

LOTHIAN, Md. (WJZ)--Banned indefinitely! The national Episcopal Church restricts Bishop Heather Cook from acting as a member of its clergy.

Tonight, the Episcopal Diocese held a meeting to talk about Cook--following a hit-and-run crash that killed Baltimore cyclist Tom Palermo. An accident in which police say Cook's blood alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit and she was texting and driving.

Rick Ritter was at the meeting in Lothian and has more on the diocese's top bishop defending their decision to elect Cook.

Just last year she was a highly regarded religious leader--the Diocese of Maryland's first female bishop. Now, church leaders field questions about Bishop Heather Cook and her battle against addiction.

"We don't kick clergy out on the streets," said Bishop Eugene Sutton, Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

The downfall continues for Cook following the hit-and-run accident that killed Tom Palermo. Since then she posted bail and was slammed with a 13 count indictment, but her past has been exposed.

A 2010 DUI arrest shows Cook had vomit on herself and whiskey in the passenger seat of the same Subaru involved in the Palermo accident.

Years later, she was still ordained as Bishop Suffragan--leaving many questioning the diocese's process.

"Obviously there's a flaw, there are flaws in there," said Bishop Sutton.

Top Bishop Eugene Sutton says they never had details of Cook's initial DUI.

"One of the regrets I have, is we didn't have all the information we needed," Bishop Sutton said.

Saying many spoke so highly of her, so they never felt a need to dig deeper.

"She had only stellar recommendations," said Bishop Sutton.

Ritter: "Why didn't the diocese go after the details?"

"We were told that it was a one off deal not something that was an ongoing problem," said Dan Webster, Spokesperson for Diocese of Maryland.

But even after that, Bishop Sutton was the one who says Cook was "inebriated" during a private dinner before she was ordained to the high ranking position.

"A bishop just can't get up and stop an election and by the way I have no business to think it should not have been stopped," said Sutton.

While Cook's been called on to resign and restricted from acting as a member of the diocese's clergy church, members admit the entire ordeal will be tough to overcome.

"I think it's going to take a while for us to get past this, but I think we're moving in the right direction," said Rick Downs.

Cook's attorney continues to decline to comment on Cook being asked to resign and how she's now restricted. He says the bishop remains at in-patient treatment facility.

Cook faces charges including automobile manslaughter and DUI. If convicted, she could face more than 20 years in prison.

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