A former Baltimore MD bishop, Heather Cook, was sentenced last week to seven years in state prison for texting and driving drunk, which led to the death of a cyclist in a park.
Cook was led out of court last Tuesday night in handcuffs, having been sentenced to 13 years with six years suspended. In the accident, she slammed into the biker Thomas Palermo on Roland Avenue in Baltimore, She was three times over the legal limit, and texting.
Palermo was a 41 year old software engineer and had two young daughters, and he often biked in the area.
The judge noted during the sentence that her prison sentence was not the final judgment, and that she would be judged later – in the afterlife. Cook pleaded guilty to automobile manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident, and other violations.
State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby was at the hearing, and said that some measure of justice had been imposed. However, the family of the victim was critical, noting that Cook could have been sentenced to 20 years.
This was not the former bishop’s first offense; she also drove drunk on a flat tire in Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 2010.
On the day she was convicted, she turned to address the family of the victim, Thomas Palermo. She told them that she was very sorry for the agony and pain she had caused with her drunk driving and texting. She added that she accepted full responsibility, and that she wished she could do something to make it different. She concluded that she often feels that she does not deserve to live.
Palermo’s widow stated during the trial that her two young children are in terrible pain because their father is gone. She also stated that the ex-bishop fled the scene of the crime and left her husband to die alone.
One of Cook’s supporters in court stated during the trial how the ex-bishop had grown her parish in York PA, and attracted so many new members that the church needed to build a new facility. She was elected bishop suffragan last year, which is the #2 job in the Episcopal Diocese of MD.
However, the woman also had serious problems with drinking. The prosecuting attorney in this trial noted that that the first drunk driving charge Cook had in 2010 should have served as a wake up call for her. But it apparently did not in Cook’s case, as she continued to drive drunk.
Left Scene of Accident to Take Dog Home
After she killed Palermo, Cook continued to drive, apparently not aware that she had hit a person. She did eventually return to the crash scene, and an ambulance had already arrived. Cook took her dog home before she turned herself into the police.
After she was arrested, Cook took a Breathalyzer test and had a blood alcohol level of 0.22, which is nearly three times the legal limit.
The Growing Problem of Texting and Driving
While the case above was a truly outrageous case involving alcohol, just texting and driving alone is a serious, growing problem in the US. Almost all states in the US have passed some form of ban on cellphone and texting while driving:
Image Source: Personalinjurysandiego.org
Statistics tell us that the number of drivers in the US who text and drive at some point is almost 50%. This continues to happen, even though drivers are being more educated than ever about how dangerous it is to drive distracted.
It is alarming to note that about 50% of high school students 16 and older admit to driving and texting, or have been in a car where the driver is doing so. This young age group also is more likely to drive and drink, which can greatly increase the chances of an accident.
Teen drivers have spent most of their lives with cell phones and other advanced communication products. The wide proliferation of cell phones means that people are becoming more impatient and want to have an answer to a text in just a few minutes. So, many people are more likely to glance at their cell phone while driving to see if that important text came in yet.
Texting and driving has become such a menace that the federal government has even created a specific website that details its dangers – www.distraction.gov. One of the most useful aspects of this new site is the section that deals with employers. After all, many distracted drivers are on the clock when they are behind the wheel. A company can and often is sued in civil court when a distracted driver is working, texting behind the wheel, and has an accident that injures another party.
Employers are strongly encouraged to have their employees take a pledge to never drive while using a cellphone – whether talking or texting.
It is policies such as these that can help to save lives and make the public much more aware of this problem.