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Doctor charged with murder in ballerina's traffic death

Posted September 15, 2009
Updated September 23, 2009

— A local plastic surgeon facing a new charge in the weekend traffic death of a ballerina training in Raleigh has surrendered his medical license and resigned from his job.

"A license to practice medicine is a genuine privilege," Raymond Dwight Cook said in a written statement Tuesday. "It is one that I cherish and have never taken for granted. It has afforded me the opportunity to help and to heal. Today, I surrendered my license to practice medicine."

Raymond Cook Charge upgraded in ballerina's traffic death

Cook, 42, of 10516 Beckridge Lane in Raleigh, was first arrested Sept. 11 after a wreck at Lead Mine and Strickland roads in Raleigh. Investigators said the car he was driving crashed into the back of a vehicle driven by Elena Bright Shapiro, 20, of Winston-Salem. She died at WakeMed.

He was charged with a death by motor vehicle in Shapiro's death, as well as a number of other charges, including driving while impaired and careless and reckless driving.

But authorities upgraded the death charge to second-degree murder Tuesday. Cook could face a maximum sentence of 41½ years in prison, if convicted.

Wake County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Cruden declined to comment about the case Tuesday, but public records indicate Cook has a DWI conviction from 1989 in Camden County, Ga., where he pleaded no contest.

That, as well as speeding, were factors that could have led authorities to upgrade the death-by-motor-vehicle charge. A police report indicates Cook was traveling 90 mph in a 45 mph zone at the time of the wreck.

Cook, who was already out of jail on a $50,000 bond, surrendered shortly after noon and was initially held under a $2 million bond, which was later reduced to $250,000.

His attorney, Roger Smith Jr., argue during a bond hearing that the $2 million amount was outside the presumptive range for someone with his client's background. He had nothing on his record, Smith said, to indicate that he would be a flight risk.

Cook was out of jail on bond by Tuesday afternoon. Under the terms of his bond, he also had to surrender his passport.

Reading the statement on behalf of his client after the bond hearing, Smith said Cook also planned to enter a substance abuse program later this week.

According to the North Carolina Medical Board, Cook graduated from medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1997 and completed his residency at Duke University Medical School. He was licensed to practice medicine in North Carolina in 1999.

Employed by UNC Hospitals but authorized only to practice at WakeMed in Raleigh, Cook practiced facial plastic surgery and otolaryngology, a specialty in treating ear, nose, throat, head and neck disorders.

He was suspended from WakeMed on Sunday, following his arrest in Friday's wreck.

Meanwhile Tuesday, mourners gathered at Wait Chapel at Wake Forest University for Shapiro's funeral – an event Cook also acknowledged Tuesday.

"Today, in Winston-Salem, Elena Bright Shapiro is laid to rest," Smith read on behalf of his client. "My wife, parents, and family join me in expressing our most profound sympathy to Ms. Shapiro's family. Yet, we understand that words can never take away the pain of her loss."

Shapiro had trained with a number of dance companies, including the Hungarian National Ballet, Houston Ballet and Boston Ballet. She joined the Carolina Ballet in 2008 and had performed in several productions, including "Beauty and the Beast." She was also a dancer in the troupe's upcoming performance of "Swan Lake."

Robert Weiss, artistic director for Carolina Ballet, said Sunday that Shapiro was a young dancer with great potential.

"We don't know what she would have done," he said. "That's the tragedy – that she never had a chance to find out what she could achieve."


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  • maist90266 Sep 24, 2009

    it is well known by his co-workers that he drank heavily and how much he could drink. Even a topic of comedy in the office...SAD HOW THEY THOUGHT THAT WAS FUNNY INSTEAD OF HELPING HIM GET HELP BEFORE HE KILLED SOMEONE.

  • roushmuscle Sep 18, 2009

    Couldn't post the link bc of WRAL's flawed filtering program. But you all should read the article from the Winston-Salem Journal. Focuses a bit more on her rather than WRAL's style of "lets stir the pot" reporting style.

  • Jack Flash Sep 16, 2009

    "If the death is caused by negligence of another - does the specific manner of negligence really matter?"

    Absolutely. The victim is just as dead (100%) and the killer is equally a killer (100%), but there is variance in sentencing. A coworker of my father's, stone cold sober, killed someone in a car after pulling out a few feet too far and tapping a Jeep hard enough in a curve that it rolled. He did 2 years in jail. Had he been drunk, or REPEATEDLY drunk-driving, and going twice the posted speed limit, he'd have gotten more time.

  • Jack Flash Sep 16, 2009

    "Thanks - you just made the point"
    No, yellowhat, I was using an analogy, wherein the two halves have to do with EACH OTHER, not necessarily the actual issue. The point is that the end result is not the only thing that matters.

  • Jack Flash Sep 16, 2009

    jackflash123: Did you just attempt to equate what Dr. Cook is accused of doing as "reasonable negligence?"

    Nope. Not even close. yellow_hat was claiming DUI and wrecking b/c you were eating a hamburger are the same. I was referring to the latter.
    That's another example of the exact thing I commented on regarding your response to Lyle, too. You are taking the wildest interpratation you can come up with to further what appears to be an agenda prioritizing conflict.

  • Rolling Along Sep 15, 2009

    @OhYea...maybe cars are the problem and not the alcohol? You can drink and not have problems. You can drive and maybe not have problems. But plenty of people get in wrecks that haven't been drinking. So I think maybe the cars are the problem.

    Obviously drinking and driving don't mix and until we enforce the laws we have on the books and take driving seriously the carnage will continue.

  • howdiditgettothis Sep 15, 2009

    continued -

    My drunk driver died at the wreck, yet I lived.

    Don't think Dr. Cook won't think about this every day for the rest of his life.

    I am positive he will.....as will the families involved.

  • howdiditgettothis Sep 15, 2009

    I was about 20, and just starting college. A man I do not know chose to drink and drive FIVE lanes over until he plowed head on into my car.

    I spent the next few years dealing with hospitalizations, surgery, year(s) of physical therapy, more hospitalization, (yes, plastic surgery included), dental work, mental health assistance.....

    20 + years later, I still suffer physical ailments (Signifigant, and advanced arthritis in several joints/bones due to trauma), will need very expensive dental work once again performed (previous dental work is wearing out with time).

    I have learned to live with a moderate degree of pain daily, and every facet of my life was changed in that short span of a minute or two......all based on someone else's poor choice.

    All I can say is you may be on one side of the coin tomorrow and you NEVER know which side it will be.

    The next time you speed, or drink, or text, or use your cell phone, or drive angry, or whatever...

  • See Chart Sep 15, 2009

    Awful that the criminal defense lawyers start
    Drug Re-Hab after fatalities.

    His family and freinds most likely knew he had a drinking issue.
    In any event he will cost taxpayers a lot of dough for
    the trial, perhaps a serious plea-bargain worked out with
    both the Shapiro' family and the District Attorney will come
    about after his "Re-Hab".

  • xfactor Sep 15, 2009

    I apoligize if you saw my response. Aproprox. 20 yrs ago, I did something similar (no injures-just prop damage). It was my first week in college and made a bad decision. The first thing my rep told me was told me was voluntarily check into rehab.
    Unless you know him personally, there is no way you no if he has a drinking problem.
    I completely agree what happened was tragic and very reckless and a debt to society should be paid.