Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Will There Be Justice For Tom Palermo?

Stories like this really get me upset.

Baltimore area framebuilder Tom Palermo, aged 41, was struck and killed by a car Saturday while he was riding his bicycle. Tom was a husband and father of young children. I've seen some of Tom's beautiful bicycle framebuilding work, though I'd never met him personally -- but from everything I've heard from those who knew him, it sounds like he was a really great guy. Dale Brown, of the Classic Rendezvous group, called Tom "truly one of the nicest guys in cycling."

Tom with his daughter. (Photo from the Bikemore blog)
The driver of the vehicle that struck Tom, an Episcopalian Bishop named Heather Cook, initially fled the scene, leaving him to die in the street. After being pursued by other cyclists who were able to get at least a partial ID of the car and license plate, she did eventually return to the scene. The incident is still being investigated, and at this point it hasn't been revealed whether or not alcohol was involved, but some of the media reports indicate that Cook has a record of DUI in the past. The Baltimore Sun reported that "police would confer with prosecutors about whether charges would be filed."

Unfortunately, a terrible truth for all of us cyclists is that there is far too often an "accidents will happen" mindset in our justice system, so the drivers who maim and kill cyclists rarely see any kind of criminal charges, or those charges are so watered down as to be rendered meaningless. Police, prosecutors, and grand juries, being primarily motorists themselves, are much more likely to identify with the drivers in these incidents -- and thereby take the attitude that the cyclists took their lives into their own hands simply by riding in the streets.

And yet the driver left the scene.
Even such extenuating factors as distracted driving, excessive speed, driving under the influence, or even fleeing the scene of the crime (sorry, but once the driver flees, I refuse to call it an "accident") rarely seem to count against the drivers who kill cyclists. In this case, with the driver being a notable bishop (the No. 2 official in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland), it seems unlikely to me that serious charges would be raised against her, regardless of the other circumstances of the case that may come to light. Maybe I'll be proven wrong. Who knows?

There is currently an effort from friends, family, and other cyclists to encourage the prosecutors on the case to pursue homicide charges against Cook. You find some info about that on Facebook. There are some nice photos of Tom with his family on the site.

More info about the incident can be found HERE and HERE.

Tom Palermo got his start building bicycles with the Proteus Bike Shop in College Park, Maryland, which is where a number of other builders got started. Some of Tom's framebuilding work can be seen at his website. He was a talented guy. But the real tragedy of this story is that his young children have lost their father -- and nothing can change that.

Will there be justice for Tom?


  1. This is absolutely heartbreaking.

    Sounds like the Episcopal diocese is trying to minimize the hit and run by emphasizing that she eventually returned to the scene. Most likely, she returned not because Jesus told her to but because she realized she was ID'd. The diocese needs to halt the spin, stop praying and start paying full financial support to Tom's family. Heather should do some serious time for the crime and incur a life time ban on driving. That would be justice.

  2. As a member of an Episcopal parish, I hope that the bishop and diocese will do the truly Christian thing and support Tom's family. And whatever her punishment, I hope she makes a real apology to the family, and not merely say "I'm sorry" to protect her reputation or prevent further fallout from raining on her.

    Brooks makes a great point: No matter the circumstances, drivers are rarely held accountable for maiming or killing cyclists. Even if the driver is drunk or otherwise impaired, we are assumed to be at fault. This needs to change.

  3. Texting and driving is dangerous, it is the leading cause of death of teen drivers. There is a huge stigma attached to being caught for DUI. It's quite humiliating when your friends, relatives, or people around you come to know that you are convicted for DUI. Hiring a lawyer is the best immediate possible way to get out of this situation. My cousin works with a DUI lawyer and that’s how I know things a bit.