Baltimore Sun skips key angle in DUI bishop case: Why was Heather Cook using that cellphone?

It made headlines at the end of 2014 and during 2015, and the DUI-linked vehicular homicide conviction of a now-former Episcopal bishop in Baltimore made news again last week.

Heather "DUI bishop" Cook, at one time the suffragan bishop of the Episcopal Church's Maryland Diocese, will remain in prison until at least 2020. She failed to gain early release at a parole hearing mandated by state law.

Cook, whose seven-month tenure as a bishop effectively ended with the December 2014 crash that killed cyclist Tom Palermo, expressed no remorse at the hearing, according to media reports. (She actually resigned on May 1, 2015, roughly one year after being elevated to the role.) The Baltimore Sun, which has been on top of the story since the accident, sums things up for us:

The Maryland Parole Commission on Tuesday denied the parole request of Heather Cook, the former Episcopal bishop who is serving a seven-year prison sentence for the drunken-driving crash that killed a bicyclist in 2014.
Commission chairman David Blumberg said the two commissioners who ruled on the case told him they denied Cook parole in part because she "took no responsibility" for her actions and displayed a "lack of remorse" during the 90-minute hearing at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup.
Cook's attorney for the hearing, Hunter L. Pruette, left without addressing reporters and could not be reached for comment.
Cook, 60, pleaded guilty in 2015 to charges of vehicular manslaughter, drunken driving, driving while texting and leaving the scene of an accident in the crash that killed 41-year-old Thomas Palermo on Dec. 27, 2014. She will no longer be eligible for parole.

The Sun report continues with a recapitulation of the case, as well as some of the comments made by Palermo's widow, Rachel, following the hearing. Watching this woman's statements -- see video above -- is painful. Two young children are without their father; a young wife was robbed of her husband. 

Also, the "lack of remorse" widely reported at the parole hearing seems to reach back to the day of the accident. As the conservative, unofficial Anglican news site Virtue Online reported:

... the former bishop left the scene of the accident even after the bicyclist's helmet was imbedded in her shattered windshield. Instead, she returned home where she made two calls -- one to her "co-worker" Diocese of Maryland's Canon to the Ordinary, Scott Slater, and another to her "boy friend" presumably former Episcopal priest, Mark Hansen -- but made no calls to 911 seeking help for the dying biker from emergency personnel.
During her sentencing court appearance, Assistant Baltimore City Prosecutor [Kurt] Bjorklund noted that she also brought her dog home.
"She made sure her dog was okay, but she didn't care about another human," Bjorklund said at the sentencing on Oct. 27, 2015.

There are limits to how much of a recap a given news story can provide. The Baltimore Sun is not The New Yorker magazine, so a 20,000-word treatise isn't to be expected. But there's one journalistic point worth mentioning that the Sun skipped.

Our own tmatt, a longtime resident of Charm City, deserves credit for noting this: We still do not know, more than two years after the accident, who Cook was texting at the time of the crash.

Was she on a personal smartphone or one belonging to the diocese? And why isn't the Sun trying to find out? There could be legal and financial ramifications there.

Was the communication work related? Was she contacting someone in the diocese on official business? That Cook was using mobile technology has not only been widely reported but "driving while texting" was one of the charges to which she pled guilty.

To its credit, the Sun did report one notable outcome of the Cook case as it concerns the larger Episcopal Church:

The case prompted the governing body of the national Episcopal Church to pass resolutions acknowledging the church's role in the culture of alcohol and drug abuse and recommending that those nominated for higher office be questioned about addiction or substance issues early in the selection process.

Unless and until Cook decides to explain her actions on that fateful day, we may never know what she was doing -- and why.

If I were following the case for the Sun, I would make learning about the nature of that texting a priority. When in doubt, follow the money and the legal ties. If ever the phrase "right to know" had any meaning, I believe it has great meaning here.

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