BALTIMORE (AP) — The leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland said a bishop-elect charged in a drunken driving death may also have been inebriated at a dinner months earlier, just days before her consecration as a bishop, according to a timeline released by the diocese.
The diocese leader relayed his concerns to the head of the national church, according to the timeline released Monday, which is the first indication church officials had concerns about alcohol misuse occurring after a 2010 drunken driving conviction.
Bishop Heather Cook is facing manslaughter, drunken driving and texting while driving charges after she fatally struck bicyclist Thomas Palermo in December in Baltimore while legally drunk. Prosecutors say Cook left the scene before returning and recording a breathalyzer reading of .22. The blood-alcohol content limit for driving in Maryland is .08.
Cook was convicted of drunken driving in 2010 on Maryland's Eastern Shore. That conviction was known to Diocesan Bishop Eugene Sutton and leaders of a search committee that vetted Cook and other candidates for the position of bishop suffragan.
The timeline initially reported Sutton suspected "Cook is inebriated during pre-consecration dinner" Sept. 4, and that Sutton conveyed "concern to presiding bishop." However, the diocese changed its description Tuesday of the event to a "private dinner" and reposted the timeline to its website. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori then "indicates she will discuss with Cook" the concern raised by Sutton, the timeline said. Jefferts Schori presided over Cook's consecration the morning of Sept. 6.
Dave Irwin, Cook's lawyer, said he had not seen reports that his client was intoxicated at the dinner and declined to comment.
Neva Rae Fox, a spokeswoman for Jefferts Schori, declined to comment Tuesday because of a confidential church investigation.
The timeline said Bishop Clay Matthews of the church's Office of Pastoral Development met in October with Cook, but noted the details of that meeting are known only to Jefferts Schori's office.
Sutton acted correctly, said Sharon Tillman, a spokeswoman for the diocese, in bringing his concerns to Jefferts Schori, noting Cook is under the authority of the presiding bishop.
"Bishop Sutton did exactly what was required and expected of him according to the structure of the Episcopal Church," Tillman said.
The timeline also notes that Cook's conviction in the 2010 case came to light during the search process. Her superior at the time, Diocese of Easton Bishop James Shand, recommended Cook "without concerns or reservations," the timeline said.
The Diocese of Maryland cannot take away Cook's rank of bishop, but its standing committee has asked her to resign. She is on administrative leave.
Cook is free on $2.5 million bail and undergoing inpatient treatment. A hearing is scheduled for Friday in her criminal case.