Former Episcopal Bishop Heather Cook has parole hearing Tuesday

Cook has been behind bars for 18-months
Posted at 5:41 PM, May 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-08 17:50:59-04

It was two days after Christmas 2014. Tom Palermo was out riding his bike down Roland Avenue when a car slammed into him from behind. The driver was former Episcopal Bishop Heather Cook.

Investigators say she was texting and drunk by nearly three-times the legal limit. Cook drove away, only to come back to the scene 30-minutes later.

By then, the husband and father of two was dead.

"It was a tragedy, there are no winners in this case, there are only losers," Cook’s attorney David Irwin said in September 2015.

Cook pleaded guilty to manslaughter, leaving the scene of a fatal accident, drunk driving, and texting while driving.

At her sentencing, Palermo's loved ones pleaded with the judge to give the 60-year-old a harsh punishment.  The defrocked religious leader was given seven-years-behind bars.

"While no amount of prison time would ever seem sufficient, we feel the court today could have sent a stronger signal that our community takes driving while under the influence and driving while distracted seriously,” said Alisa Rock, Palermo’s sister-in-law in October 2015. “It feels lukewarm."

Now, 18-months later, she could walk free.  A parole hearing for Cook is scheduled for Tuesday morning.

Cycling groups are again urging a strong message.

"We feel that it's just way too soon,” said Jon Korin, President of Bicycle Advocates for Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.

He says Cook made bad choices, and there need to be consequences.

"I've come to learn under Maryland law, folks who commit so-called non-violent crimes become eligible for parole after 25 percent of a sentence is served,” Korin said. “But it is just hard to consider this a non-violent crime."

Bike Maryland is circulating a petition asking the Maryland Parole Commission to block Cook from going free.  The letter says in part "Heather Cook should be denied parole.  She made deliberate choices leading up to killing Tom."

“Eighteen months is just not long enough - this was not an accident, and the message sent to our community if she is paroled now will be that there are not severe enough consequences when you kill one of us when flagrantly violating the law and human decency."

"When these tragedies happen the cycling community mobilizes and is always trying to bring a little bit of good out of such a horrible tragedy,” said Korin. “That good that can potentially come out of this is a loud, loud message to the driving public to please do not drive impaired, do not drive distracted, and positively do not do both as heather cook did."

Cook is set to go before the Parole Commission at the hearing Tuesday morning in Jessup.

ABC2 News reached out to Cook’s attorney, but have not heard back.