Friday, October 30, 2015

Hard drive

It's easy to point fingers, but there are at least three reasons why Heather Cook, pictured at right, is waking up this morning in the Walled-off Astoria. Not long ago, she was the #2 ranking Episcopal church official in the local diocese, and now the only number she bears is longer, and worn on the front of her shirt.

Cook was sentenced Tuesday to serve seven years in prison.  This is because last year, two days after Christmas, she got drunk three times the legal limit and drove her car up Roland Avenue, striking and killing bicyclist Tom Palermo. She was texting on her cell phone at the time.

And then, maybe worst of all, this woman, a representative of God on Earth, chose to drive away from the scene, leaving Palermo to die on the street.

Frankly, it's hard to tell what was the worst part of all this.  Maybe it's the fact that she got gassed a few years ago while serving on the Eastern Shore, driving on a rim and a shredded tire with marijuana in the car.  She said then that was her major wakeup call.  And then she went right back to sleep, adrift in the slumber of the uncaring, the unconcerned for anyone but themselves.   

Mr Palermo's family spoke for two hours at the sentencing hearing Tuesday, begging the court to put this awful woman away for a long time, as they spoke of the emotional loss of a son, brother, and father.

Led away for a long time
"This tragedy will not define Tom or our family; our resolve is strong as we hold Tom in our hearts,” Palermo’s sister-in-law Alisa Rock said.

I understand the struggle many people have with alcohol, and I sympathize with that fight. However, it's one thing to sit in one's house and drink to excess, and quite another to drink to excess and then get behind the steering wheel of a car, and to be texting and careering up the street in that car, and to strike and kill another human being and flee like a coward.

People who study crime and punishment will tell you that one part of the reason for prison (penitentiary - a place to be penitent) is to punish wrongdoers by taking away their freedom and confining them to a cell, and the other part is to serve as a deterrent by reminding people who might be thinking about driving while drunk and/or being careless enough to text while driving, that there will be severe consequences for doing so.

It's sad.  The Palermo family will surely not be the last to be bereaved due to the foul actions of others, but chances are that someone will get the message from this, and not drive drunk.

And for the next seven years, Heather Cook won't be driving at all. Thank God.

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