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Prosecutor: Wreck that killed ballerina was no accident

Posted February 15, 2011
Updated February 24, 2011

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— After a three-month delay, the trial for a Raleigh doctor charged with murder in a wreck that killed a ballerina is underway. Opening statements began Tuesday afternoon, and the state called an eyewitness to the stand who described the "unbelievable" impact of the crash.

Raymond Dwight Cook, a former facial plastic surgeon, is charged with second-degree murder, driving while impaired and felony death by vehicle in the Sept. 11, 2009 wreck that killed Elena Bright Shapiro, 20.

In his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Adam Moyers gave jurors a glimpse of what Shapiro was like. She was a ballerina with the Carolina Ballet, in the midst of rehearsals for "Swan Lake."

"She's beautiful, she's talented, she's full of promise," Moyers said. "On Sept. 11, the bright light that was Elena Shapiro was snuffed out forever."

He said Shapiro left her house to go to a housewarming party at the home of another dancer. As she pulled out onto Strickland Road, Cook, driving well over the 45 mph speed limit, crashed into the back of her Hyundai.

Moyers said the impact of the crash thrust the rear tire of Shapiro's car into the passenger seat. He said the wreck was no accident.

"He chose to drink. He chose to drive after drinking," he said.

Roger Smith Jr., one of Cook's attorneys, said in his opening statement that evidence shows Cook was drinking and was speeding, but that doesn't make him guilty of murder. He said Cook immediately got out of his vehicle after the crash to begin administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to Shapiro.

Smith said Cook had been golfing at a local country club that day and then went to Piper's Tavern to meet a friend.

The state's first witness, Melissa Cassario, testified that she saw the crash. She said she was behind Cook and watched his black Mercedes "slam" into Shapiro's car. Cassario said Cook was traveling faster than she had ever seen anyone drive on a city street.

"The sound of the crash, the sparks, the impact, it was unbelievable," Cassario said.

Cook on trial Prosecution, defense at odds about whether wreck was murder

Before the opening statements Tuesday, Cook's lawyers submitted a series of motions to Superior Court Judge Osmond Smith. They asked to suppress the chemical analysis of Cook's blood, but Smith withheld his ruling until the evidence is introduced at trial.

The defense asked that a radar detector found in Cook's car and autopsy photos be excluded from evidence. Smith denied both motions.

Cook's lawyers also asked to limit testimony from a witness who is expected to testify that Cook was kissing a woman outside the tavern where he was reportedly drinking before the accident. They asked that testimony of an expert witness expected to testify that Cook was traveling at least 75 mph be excluded. Smith withheld his ruling on both motions until the witnesses are called to testify.

Smith withheld rulings on two other motions, protecting the defendant's Miranda rights and suppressing any statements made by the defendant at the scene or the hospital, until the trial begins. 

The trial was supposed to begin in November, but a "bad indictment" prompted a judge to delay it.

Wake County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Cruden filed a motion to continue the case, saying the "bad indictment" failed to mention the words "with malice aforethought." That phrase is necessary in a second-degree murder charge.

The judge continued Cook's case so it could go back to the grand jury.

Prosecutors offered Cook a plea deal in May, but he and his lawyer never agreed to it. Since the wreck, he surrendered his medical license and completed a stint at a rehab clinic.

Formerly 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.

86 Comments

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  • pamelaworley1969 Feb 16, 2011

    money is fixing to get him off and that is not justice. he may be a doctor or was but he needs to be helad accountable as any other person off the street without a well known name or reputable career. i totally disagree with hes not a murderer. He knows the possible outcome of drinking and driving may be someone dying but yet he CHOSE to do it anyway and well we see the results of his actions. Nothing less than premeditation. something is premeditated if it is planned in advance. he planned to drink and planned to drive as i said knowing the possible consequences in his actions. My neice was killed by a drunk driver at 9 yrs old so yea i hope they fry him !!

  • St Ives Feb 16, 2011

    They have sasked to supress al lot of the evidence, becuase Cook clearly murdered this girl in her prime and of course his money can get him Roger Smith as an attorney.
    Another words. Don't show any one on the jury how reckless and disinvolved in caring aobut his fellow man this man really is.

  • MonkeyFace Feb 16, 2011

    "They asked to suppress the chemical analysis of Cook's blood"----love how they did that... i wonder what the results really were.. guess we'll find out later.

  • hellorhighwaters Feb 15, 2011

    er88---you are correct in saying that two talented people lost thier lives. But let's look at this again.....one was (by most standards) still a minor (not old enough to drink) and the other,
    well old enough to drink and think more clearly (we thought)about what he was drinking, doing, and why (am I)driving.
    But obviguosly not, or this young girl would be still alive.
    Please let the justice system work (the correct way)this time.
    Doctor or not; career or not; this young girl had a promising career also before it was unnecessarily taken from her.
    This doctors' freedom and career both need to be taken away...permanently!!!!!

  • Go Figure Feb 15, 2011

    I feel bad for this beautiful girl's family having to sit thru this circus and watch this over and over again.

  • Bartmeister Feb 15, 2011

    I really wonder what his lawyer thinks................... Does he believe he's not guilty of 2nd degree murder? Or does he feel that everyone is entitled to a fair trial? Yeah, I'm gonna go with a fair trial thingy. The DA is really pressing the 2nd degree charge or he wouldn't have delayed last year. Let's see what kind of judicial system we have here. Not sure of the charges, but I'm gonna say vehicular homicide or voluntary manslaughter. 2nd degree murder, although perhaps is a proper charge, seems like a weird term in this case. Hope he gets what he deserves.

  • er88 Feb 15, 2011

    It's sad that two talented people lost their lives. RIP Elena and may justice be served on Dr. Cook

  • Go Figure Feb 15, 2011

    Amanda Lamb "He [Cook] tried to help Shapiro but she was trapped in the car." THEN how did he give her MOUTH TO MOUTH????

  • Deacons Feb 15, 2011

    He was driving a 469hp Mercedes AMG. They can hit 80 in 6 seconds. Get the floormat stuck under the pedal and you will be in triple digits before you get it out. VERY easy to have it happen in that car in a SPLIT second without much effort or "malice" intended.
    tar97heel
    How does a floor mat get stuck under the gas pedal???? Good for Mr. Cook that you are not his defense attorney.

  • NCSU PHD Feb 15, 2011

    Got the answer! Send him to prison and help Bev pay down the debt she has gotten all taxpayers into. He has a medical license and can save the taxpayers money by being a prison doctor.

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