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N.J. native killed in hit-and-run involving Md. cleric

An Episcopal bishop who was the driver in a hit-and-run crash that killed a bicyclist in Baltimore was charged four years ago with drunken driving and marijuana possession, court documents show.

Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook, who is the No. 2 leader for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, was driving a car that hit Tom Palermo, 41, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, diocese spokeswoman Sharon Tillman said.

Palermo died from head injuries, said Bruce Goldfarb, spokesman for the Maryland Medical Examiner's Office.

Court records show that in 2010, Cook was charged with driving under the influence and marijuana possession in Caroline County, on the Eastern Shore.

Tillman said Cook disclosed the charges when she was vetted and ultimately elected as the diocese's first female bishop.

In an e-mail Sunday, Bishop Eugene Sutton told priests in the diocese that Cook left the scene of the accident but returned about 20 minutes later "to take responsibility for her actions." He said Cook was on administrative leave "because the nature of the accident could result in criminal charges."

Palermo was a native of Riverton, N.J., who graduated from St. Joseph's Preparatory School in 1991, friends said. He was married with two young children and lived in Baltimore.

"My heart is hurting," his wife, Rachel Rock Palermo, posted on his Facebook page. She wrote that his funeral is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Towson, Md. A community reception is scheduled for Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. at Ruck's Funeral Home in Towson, his wife wrote.

"He was just a good, decent man," said Sean Moran, 41, of Levittown, who was a classmate of Palermo's at St. Joseph's Prep.

"He was a very beloved member of our class," said Rob Rowello, who also graduated with Palermo at St. Joseph's. "The news came as a shock to all of us who knew him, as he was an avid cyclist, and built custom bike frames in his spare time. He was a very safe rider."

Moran and Rowello are active with a Facebook group called "Justice for Tom Palermo," which was started Sunday afternoon and had more than 670 likes as of late Monday night.

Moran said that Palermo's friends will do what they can to help his wife and children, but that they also want the bishop "held accountable."

Inquirer staff writer Robert Moran contributed to this article.