by Liz Cornish, Executive Director
On December 27th, 2014, Tom Palermo, beloved Baltimore bike builder, father to Sadie and Sam, and husband to Rachel was killed by Heather Cook while riding his bike. Next month, Cook is eligible for parole, after serving only one fifth of her seven year sentence.
There are two critical ways that the current system has failed in bringing justice to the Palermo family and those who knew Tom. First, despite Cook’s disregard for Tom’s life, her crime is considered nonviolent. This creates the environment for her to be eligible for parole so soon. Second, the courts themselves cannot revoke her license, that is up to the MVA. It’s possible her driver’s license could be suspended or revoked once she is released, but that has remained unclear during this process.
I did not know Tom. I moved to Baltimore a few months after his death. But over the past two years I have fought both for changes and improvements in infrastructure and for policy that aim to prevent tragedies like Tom’s from occurring.
And despite the national attention Tom’s death received, here in Baltimore I spend time defending his memory from people who would rather not be reminded of his tragic end. Multiple times I’ve had to work with the city to protect his ghost bike memorial from neighbors who would like it removed. I’ll never forget Tom’s name being invoked at the now infamous Roland Park meeting where a woman was spitting in anger over the proposed bike lane, and shouted at me that Tom didn’t need a bike lane, and he should have been wearing a helmet. To which I responded, “He was wearing a helmet, but it ended up on the floorboard of Heather Cook’s car when he was hit.”
The fact that the laws aren’t designed to respond to the type of gross negligence Heather Cook exhibited that day is why Bikemore is advocating that she not be allowed early release. It is clear that in the minds of some residents, people on bikes do not deserve safe places to ride, they do not deserve to be memorialized.
At this stage, the most effective thing you can do is write a letter to the parole board. These letters work best when they are written in your own language. You can use our letter below as a guide. Letters are due April 15th.
The letter must include:
Address letters to:
Maryland Parole Commission
Attn: Ms. Johnson
6776 Reisterstown Rd., Suite 307
Baltimore, MD 21215