Former bishop Heather Cook will serve seven years for fatal hit-and-run

Former Bishop Heather Cook will serve jail time for the manslaughter of cyclist on 27th DecemberEpiscopal Diocese of Maryland

Former Bishop of Maryland Heather Cook will serve seven years in prison for killing cyclist Tom Palermo. She was driving while drunk.

A Baltimore judge sentenced her to 20 years imprisonment but suspended 13 years. Cook will serve five years for manslaughter followed by two years for leaving the scene of the accident and will serve a further five years on probation on the completion of her term.

Cook was driving her car in Baltimore on December 27, 2014, with more than three times the state's legal alcohol limit in her bloodstream. She began to text while driving and swerved out of the traffic lane onto the bicycle lane, hitting Palermo from behind. Cook then drove away, returning half an hour later. She drove away again but returned a second time and was arrested.

At the sentencing, Tom Palermo's mother Patricia told the court that she had asked God many times why he let her son die and had had a revelation. "God didn't do this," she said. "Heather Cook killed Tom."

Cook said: "I am so sorry for the grief and the agony I have caused . This is my fault. I accept complete responsibility."

Members of the family questioned the length of the sentence. Alisa Rock, one of Palermo's sisters-in-law, said afterwards: "While no amount of prison time would ever seem sufficient, we feel the court today could have sent a stronger signal that our community takes driving while under the influence and driving while distracted seriously."

Cook's case caused heart-searching among Episcopal Church authorities as she had a long record of problems with alcohol; she was suspected of being drunk at her own consecration. The president of its House of Deputies, Rev Gay Clark Jennings, said after the accident that he was "deeply saddened" by Palermo's death and outlined measures to "help our Church repent" for its failings.

Jennings continued: "In the weeks since Mr Palermo was killed, many people in the church have struggled to understand better how our systemic denial about alcohol and other drug abuse in the Church may have contributed to Bishop Cook's election and confirmation as a bishop even as she seemed to be struggling with addiction."

The Church reviewed its policies on alcohol and put forward a series of recommendations at its General Convention in June to address alcohol and substance abuse and the use and promotion of alcohol in church-related events.