The Office of the State's Attorney for Baltimore City could make an announcement on the controversial hit-and-run case of embattled Episcopal Bishop of Maryland Heather Cook, 58, as early as this weekend and she could be facing potential vehicular manslaughter and a number of other charges.
"Information could possibly [be] coming out at the end of the week or early next week," said Tony Savage of the Office of the State's Attorney for Baltimore City in an email to The Christian Post Thursday.
Cook, who's the second-highest ranking official in the Diocese of Maryland and the first woman Bishop, hit 41-year-old married father of two, Thomas Palermo, as he cycled on a Baltimore roadway at about 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 27. Instead of stopping to help the injured man, she fled the scene as he lay dying. Cook only returned to the scene later after other cyclists reportedly chased her down.
Since that time, both the police and the State's Attorney's Office have declined to release any details on the incident citing that it was an ongoing criminal investigation. Cook and the Episcopal Church have also come under heavy criticism since news broke that she was made bishop less than 4 years after nasty 2010 DUI case in which she was also found with two baggies of marijuana.
On Tuesday, after a closed door meeting with clergy the church revealed that Cook may have been too shocked about the incident to check on Palermo.
Reacting to the pending announcement Bishop Cook's high-powered lawyer David B. Irwin of the law firm Irwin Green & Dexter said he is yet to hear anything substantive from the State's Attorney's Office and declined to address the case.
"I have not heard anything substantively from the State's Attorney's Office," he said Thursday.
Commenting on Cook's recovery, he said: "She is distraught about the death of Mr. Palermo and is very sad for him and his family. I have no comment about anything else because I don't know anything else."
While there is no indication yet on what role if any, alcohol may have played in the incident, Cook may potentially be facing any number of the group of auto manslaughter charges such as: vehicular homicide while intoxicated, negligent driving, reckless driving, driving while distracted or driving while on a cell phone.
"The State of Maryland takes a harsh stance on those who choose to endanger the lives of others by drinking and getting behind the wheel of a vehicle. As such, DUI vehicular manslaughter is classified as a felony offense," notes Maryland DUI Laws:
"When determining the sentence for a vehicular homicide conviction, the judge will consider the circumstances in the case. Potential penalties may include up to 10 years in prison and $5,000 in fines in addition to the revocation of your driving privileges," it continued.
Since she also fled the scene of an incident that proved fatal, Bishop Cook could also be facing a potential charge of up to 10 years for that decision.
"The most serious kind of traffic incident is one that proves deadly. In these cases, some drivers might become panicked, worried about what they've done and afraid of punishment. As a result, some people are tempted to flee the accident scene, a decision that nearly all come to deeply regret. Choosing to leave the scene of a fatal accident succeeds only in making an already bad situation much worse and will likely lead to jail time for the fleeing driver," explains criminallawyermaryland.net.
"Maryland criminal law says that a person who is involved in a fatal accident and fled the scene, knowing that there was a possibility the accident could result in the death of another person, can be found guilty of a felony. Those convicted of felony leaving the scene face a length 10-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $10,000," it added.
According to the statement from the Diocese Tuesday, on the day of the incident Bishop Cook called Rev. Scott Slater, chief assistant to Diocesan Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton to tell him about the hit-and-run.
"At 2:59 p.m. Slater received a call from Heather Cook. She said she thought she had hit a bicyclist and was in shock," said the statement.