Today bike advocates from Bikemore and Bike Maryland joined the Palermo family for a court appearance by Heather Cook, the episcopal bishop responsible for the death of beloved Baltimore bicyclist Tom Palermo.
The purpose of today’s hearing, one day prior to Cook’s scheduled trial was so that Cook could enter a plea of guilty on 4 of the 14 charges.
Cook plead guilty to automobile manslaughter, driving while intoxicated, leaving the scene of a fatal accident, and texting while driving resulting in death.
The State is seeking a maximum of ten years jail time and five years probation. Sentencing will take place on October 27th at 2pm. We have written a Victim Impact Statement to the judge requesting the maximum sentence.
While the family has declined to comment on whether or not the recommended sentence is appropriate, as advocates we have been asked to weigh in. We believe that in this incredibly painful time our best action is to support the Palermo family in pursuing whatever justice they seek. But trying to quantify what justice for Tom would look like is futile. And for us, the sooner Heather Cook begins paying for her crime the better. What we want to remain in the forefront of people’s minds is that Tom was loved by so many people who are still here on earth. His joy for bicycling, his love for his family was immense. There is no specific punishment that can somehow restore the loss of someone like Tom.
We believe that in order for this to not happen again, as a city we must commit to stronger enforcement of negligence while operating a motor vehicle. We have to commit to having zero tolerance to distracted driving. If the city claims they can’t afford to enforce the laws the state passes, we have to stop accepting that as an acceptable response. There was a time when driving drunk was more socially acceptable than it is today. There was a time when child seats were scarce, if used at all, and seatbelt laws were just coming into fashion. The argument that getting people to put away phones while we are driving is just too hard doesn’t hold water. Culture change related to driving can happen, because it has happened in our lifetime. And Bikemore is committed to ushering in the next wave a change for Baltimore. Cook was grossly negligent in her actions, but we are all guilty of sneaking a peek at a text or email, scrolling to find our favorite song, or typing in GPS directions from time to time. What do we have to do to make that dangerous behavior a thing of the past? How many people walking, people on bikes, and people in cars have to be killed in order for us to take this issue seriously?
We want to honor Tom and his family by ensuring families in Baltimore do not have to experience the pain and loss they have. We are working to make sure when people ride their bike, they get home safe. Will you join us?