BALTIMORE (AFP) – The first female Episcopal bishop in Maryland has been put on leave after she was involved in the hit-and-run death of a bicyclist, her diocese said Monday.
Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook drove off after she struck 41-year-old Tom Palermo on a tree-lined residential street in Baltimore on Saturday, then drove off.
She returned to the scene about 20 minutes later “to take responsibility for her actions”, Bishop Eugene Sutton said in a statement.
“Because the nature of the accident could result in criminal charges, I have placed Bishop Cook on administrative leave, effective immediately.”
He urged the faithful to “please pray for Mr Palermo, his family and Bishop Cook during this most difficult time.”
Palermo was well-known in the Baltimore area for hand-crafting bicycle frames in his own shop, and his death sparked anger among fellow cyclists.
“We urge the justice system to hold the driver who killed Tom accountable for her actions,” the Baltimore bicycle advocacy group Bikemore said, as police continued their investigation.
Mourners came on bicycles or on foot to lay flowers at the spot where Palermo was struck, on a street with a marked bicycle lane that otherwise had no divider to separate it from motor traffic.
“It is clear that dedicated bicycle lanes were not enough to keep even an experienced bicycle rider safe,” Bikemore said on its website.
New York state native Cook, 58, became Maryland’s first female Episcopal bishop when she was elected bishop suffragan – the second-highest position in the diocese – in May this year.
She was among four candidates for the position, all of them women.
In 2012, 726 “pedalcylists” – a category that also includes tricycle riders – were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Another 49,000 sustained injuries, the federal agency reported in April.