Perhaps you read a newspaper account on December 27, 2014, about Tom Palermo, killed by a hit and run driver outside of Baltimore while riding his bike in a dedicated bike lane. The news received national attention because the driver, Heather Cook, at the time of the accident was the second ranking member among Episcopalian clergy in the Diocese of Maryland.
My Riverton School Kindergarten Class, Spring 1979, Tom in back row, left, plaid shirt
It got my attention because of a Riverton connection. Tom Palermo was a Riverton kid, and I was his kindergarten teacher. Riverton School is a kindergarten through eighth grade school, and teachers, especially kindergarten teachers, have the opportunity to watch the students grow from five-year olds to students entering high school.
1987-Tom Palermo and Jill Dechnik, after an 8th Grade Graduation Party at my house
After their high school graduation, they scatter and move on, move away, or sometimes the student moves back to Riverton with a family, and their children attend Riverton School. That happens a lot.
I hadn’t heard about Tom Palermo for many years. Facebook allows people to reconnect, to catch up, to share. My daughter reconnected with Tom (I still think of him as Tommy) a while ago and sent me information about his life. The photograph of the grown man had the same smile I remembered from years ago.
And then Facebook spread the tragic news of how he died. The news spread and garnered an outpouring of shock and sadness. Television and newspaper accounts told the story of Tom’s life and how he died.
Here is a summary that I provided for people to share the news:
Tom Palermo, age 41, a senior Johns Hopkins Hospital software engineer, died after a vehicle struck him as he was cycling on the 500 block of Roland Avenue near Baltimore on December 27, 2014. Tom was married and the father of a six-year-old daughter and a four-year-old son.
Tom grew up in Riverton, New Jersey, and attended Riverton Public School from kindergarten through eighth grade. He graduated St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia and earned a history degree from the University of Maryland. Family members describe Tom as a “seasoned cyclist who had a passion for mountain biking as well as logging countless miles on the road.” He was an advocate for bike access and bike safety. In 2002, Tom began making custom bike frames at his workshop.
Bishop Heather Cook of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland is facing more than a dozen charges, including manslaughter, driving under the influence while driving, texting while driving, and leaving the scene of an accident. She had previously been arrested on a DUI charge. The trial date set for June 4 has been postponed until September.
A Palermo Children’s Education Trust has been established on the youcaring.com website. Donations may also be sent to:
Palermo Children’s Education Trust
℅ Molloy Investment Group
One South Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
The Riverton connection remains. Six months after his death, his hometown remembers Tom as the Historic Riverton Criterium returns. Promoted by Riverton resident Carlos Rogers, attention will be focused on the sport of cycling, a perfect tie-in to Tom.
This account from Carlos:
“When Sue Dechnik approached me about memorializing the life of Tom Palermo I could tell how much of an impact he must have had on people given Sue’s sincere emotion during our conversation. I had actually read about his death as the news made national headlines, but had no idea he was from Riverton. It was a simple decision to do what I could to embrace his life and the circumstances surrounding his death. Given some of the feedback I’ve gotten from Riverton residents who knew Tom, it seems like he certainly made a lasting mark on people’s lives. Since he was a bicycle aficionado, and a builder himself, I’m sure he would have loved to have seen the Historic Riverton Criterium in person. Unfortunately, he will never get that chance. Even though I didn’t know Tom, I am glad to play a part, however small, in celebrating his life. Tragically, it ties together. One, Palermo was from Riverton, and two, he was riding his bike.”
Since 2011, the HRC has contributed over $15,000 to local Riverton and Palmyra organizations and individual causes. Carlos met with Tom’s father and arranged to donate part of the proceeds of the HRC to the Palermo Children’s Education Trust. In addition, in the HRC handbook there is a piece written about Tom.
In speaking with Mr. Palermo, I found him to be grateful for the recognition Tom is getting, but profoundly sad and shocked about the tragedy that took Tom from his family.
Personally, I remember Tom as a friendly, kind-hearted kid. From all accounts, he grew up to be a special man.
by Mrs. Susan Dechnik
HRC 2015 poster
The Historic Riverton Criterium will thread through the gaslamp lined streets of Riverton for the fifth time tomorrow, June 14, 2015, 1-6 p.m. For more information, click on thumbnail at right, or visit https://www.facebook.com/historicrivertoncriterium
Find more information and photos about Tom Palermo at these links: