The Rt. Rev. Heather E. Cook has been placed on leave as Bishop Suffragan of Maryland after a bicyclist’s death during Christmas weekend.

The Rt. Rev. Eugene Sutton, Bishop of Maryland, wrote to the diocese on December 28:

I am distressed to announce that Bishop Heather E. Cook was involved in a traffic accident Saturday afternoon, Dec. 27, that resulted in the death of a bicyclist, Thomas Palermo, 41. Bishop Cook did not sustain any injuries. Together with the Diocese of Maryland, I express my deep sorrow over the death of the cyclist and offer my condolences to the victim’s family. Please pray for Mr. Palermo, his family, and Bishop Cook during this most difficult time. Please do not contact Bishop Cook directly, but feel free to send written notes to the Diocesan Center.

There is an ongoing police investigation into the accident. Several news agencies have reported this as a ‘hit and run.’ Bishop Cook did leave the scene initially, but returned after about 20 minutes to take responsibility for her actions.

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Because the nature of the accident could result in criminal charges, I have placed Bishop Cook on administrative leave, effective immediately. I will meet shortly with the Standing Committee to discuss ways we can move forward. Also, I have decided to delay my sabbatical indefinitely to be pastorally present in this difficult time.

Bishop Sutton originally wrote that he would delay his sabbatical until January 24, but the diocesan website now reflects the indefinite date.

Carrie Wells and Liz Bowie of the Baltimore Sun reported that court records show Heather Cook pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol in 2010.

“Cook was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and with possession of marijuana and paraphernalia in Caroline County in September 2010, records show,” the Sun reported. “She received probation before judgment and the marijuana possession and paraphernalia charges were dropped. Her probation was supervised, records show.”

Thomas Palermo, 41, died in the crash, which occurred at about 2:30 p.m. December 27, the paper reported.

Update: The Washington Post reports that Heather Cook disclosed her 2010 arrest while she was under consideration as a nominee for bishop suffragan.

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