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Jury views ballerina's crashed car; doctor does not

Posted February 18, 2011
Updated February 24, 2011

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— The jury in the Dr. Raymond Cook murder trial was allowed to walk outside the courthouse Friday and and see the car Cook allegedly crashed into on Sept. 11, 2009, killing the driver, 20-year-old Elena Bright Shapiro.

Cook waived his rights and told the judge he did not want to go outside and see the car.

When authorities parked Shapiro's crumpled Hyundai Elantra on Fayetteville Street, surrounded by yellow police tape, a crowd gathered to view the vehicle.

Jurors spent about 13 minutes outside and showed no emotion.

Passersby couldn't take their eyes off of the vehicle. 

Jury views ballerina's crashed car Jury views ballerina's crashed car

"It's just, actually, rather upsetting to see it," said Lois Smith. "It's obvious no one would have come out of that alive."

"We feel so sorry for the parents that they would look at that vehicle and realize their child had been involved in such a horrific incident," passerby Kathleen Budd said after seeing the car. 

Cook's defense attorneys objected to allowing jurors to see the car in person because of the "spectacle outside," and because they said the car was not in the same condition as the night of the crash.

Superior Court Judge Osmond Smith overruled their objection and allowed jurors to go outside, with the understanding that they not talk to anyone.

Cook, a former Raleigh facial plastic surgeon, is on trial for second-degree murder, driving while impaired and felony death by vehicle in a fatal crash that killed Shapiro, a ballerina with the Carolina Ballet, at the intersection of Strickland and Lead Mine roads in Raleigh.

Prosecutors deciding to show jurors the vehicle was a  calculated move to prove their case, said Bill Young, a defense attorney who is not connected to the trial. 

"That car is going to be an incredibly effective and dramatic tool for this prosecution," he said.

Witnesses recall Cook as intoxicated

Earlier Friday, two witnesses testified that Cook appeared to be intoxicated in the hours leading up to the fatal crash.

The first witness, Lee Panosian, said he did not know the doctor, but overheard him talking to some people at Raleigh Country Club's grill.

"I remember Dr. Cook being agitated about something and expressing that to the individuals," Panosian said. "There was some foul language being used, and he got madder and madder."

Cook talked about a woman and called her a foul name, Panosian said, adding that he did not hear the woman's name.

"It appeared to me that (Cook) had been drinking and was acting in a manner that supported that," Panosian testified.

The second witness, Marcia Hale, said she saw Cook at The Piper's Restaurant & Tavern on Falls of Neuse Road in Raleigh on the day of the crash.

"He ran into a chair, a stool, and almost knocked it over," she said. "He bumped into the walls. He seemed really just unaware of what was going on."

Hale said she notified the tavern's manager.

“I was certain at first glance that he was intoxicated," manager Christina Runyon testified. 

Runyon said she saw Cook stagger through the restaurant and bump into chairs. She followed him to the parking lot and asked him if he intended to drive home. She said Cook told her that he didn't have his keys and was waiting for someone to pick him up. 

Runyon continued to observe Cook, who then began walking back toward the restaurant. 

Runyon went back to work and less than an hour later she had another run-in with Cook after hearing him yelling an expletive in the restaurant. At the time, he was sitting at a table with a dark-haired woman. 

At the time, Cook was holding two drinks in his hands. Runyon told the woman that she wasn't comfortable with Cook finishing those drinks. The woman asked for to-go cups, which Runyon refused to provide. 

Cook made a comment about having already paid for the drinks, so Runyon said she would refund his money. 

The woman who was accompanying Cook also had a drink, but did not show signs of intoxication, Runyon said. 

By the time Runyon returned with a refund of Cook's money, he and the woman were near the back-door. The woman placed her unfinished drink on a table and was heard saying, "Let's go, Raymond. Let's go," Runyon said. 

Runyon said she did not follow them into the parking lot. This was around 8 p.m. 

Hale said she saw Cook again while she was outside going to her vehicle.

"He was embraced with a female, grabbing on her, grabbing on her bottom and kissing her. They were making out," she said.

"I stared at them for a good long while. I stared at them in a manner so they would know that I saw them. I said (to the woman), 'Why don’t you take him home already?'” Hale added. "The female postured like she was going to say something to me, and Dr. Cook grabbed her by the arm and went around the corner of the building, so they avoided interaction with me."

An emergency room doctor testified on Thursday that Cook had a blood-alcohol concentration three times the level at which drivers are considered impaired.

Dr. Herbert Myles told jurors that Cook was “clinically intoxicated” with a 0.245 reading when he arrived at WakeMed North Hospital the night of the crash. Cook submitted to additional testing, which confirmed the result.

Under North Carolina law, a driver is considered impaired with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08.

Defense attorneys haven’t denied that Cook had been drinking but contended in opening statements this week that he’s innocent of second-degree murder because of his attempt to intervene in the care for Shapiro after the crash.

Simon Capell, an emergency medical technician who was first at the wreck scene, another EMT, Frances Smith, and an emergency room nurse, Susan Mason Bryant, each testified that Cook had a strong or moderate odor of alcohol.

Smith, who treated Cook at the wreck scene, said he initially denied drinking but later said he had two drinks while golfing earlier in the day.

"He said specifically, 'Oh, but that was hours ago,'" she said.

Bryant said that Cook initially resisted having a blood test done after he was admitted to the hospital and that he told a doctor, "'No one's proven me drunk yet.'"

Prosecutors have contended that, because Cook had been drinking, the wreck was not an accident.

For a second-degree murder conviction, state law requires that prosecutors prove that a suspect acted with malice and should have known that his actions could kill or injure someone.

247 Comments

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  • pm2 Feb 22, 2011

    Who was he with at the bar that let him get into that car and drive...she was the last one to see him before he got in the car, right? Where is she???

  • hynoats Feb 21, 2011

    @anastasia: No hunting public service announcements maybe, but many, many, many public service announcements stating clearly that you can be hurt or killed by gun use. As for the bartender - Hale said it was the busiest she had every seen it that night. I still don't trust that an extremely busy manager could make an accurate identification under the circumstances. Hale said Cook was wearing a visor, was really sweaty, and his hair looked like it was wet. She said his wet hair looked light brown. His color hair (look at the mug shot from that night) would look pretty dark if it were wet. I would know, my hair is the same color. I doubt the manager identified him with police while Cook was sweaty, wearing a visor, and had wet hair.

    @JAT: I wondered the same thing about her kid, and you are completely right about being a regular. I believe there is a lot more to her story than she shared on the witness stand. She did come across as having a cross to bear.

  • anastasia Feb 21, 2011

    hynoats, we have been over & over the elements needed for 'malice', resulting in the 2nd. degree murder charge. It will be up to the jury to make the determination as to whether those elements have been met. As I said before, anyone who hasn't seen thousands of public service announcements by the time they are cook's age, concerning 'drinking & driving KILLS', has to have lived their life under a rock. This was NOT his first offense either. I haven't personally seen any 'hunting accident' public service announcements that I recall. But I do know not to wander around in the woods during hunting season. As for identifying a person in a packed bar, remember, the police came back to Piper's only a couple hours after cook left that night. The manager there became aware within two hours of his leaving that something really bad had happened that night. It was fresh in her mind, so much so that she went home and wrote down her actions. I have seen hunting accidents charged as murder, as have o

  • JAT Feb 21, 2011

    moving over to the current thread...

  • JAT Feb 21, 2011

    I think it's possible Marcia remembered him, but only in 2 cases: if he bumped into/spoke to/made contact with her in some way or if there was attempted flirting. I just think her testimony was over-dramatic and came across as a woman with a cross to bear against women with fried blond hair.

  • JAT Feb 21, 2011

    hynoats - I agree. And she's obviously a regular (more than the average person since she has her own nickname and everyone knows her) which means, in my defintion of the word, she's there a lot and Pipers is not just a family place. It's a bar. I wonder where Marcia's kid was at the time?

  • JAT Feb 21, 2011

    Sherlock- what was that? Must have missed something.

  • hynoats Feb 21, 2011

    I'm definitely not saying Cook is not guilty of something, but it seems the evidence for 2nd degree murder is quite weak. The prosecution is reaching for anything they can - just not effectively in my opinion.

    @anastasia: Let's not forget the blame that is shared by the manager who asked Cook to leave, but did nothing to ensure he would not drive, and the bartender who sold him 2 more drinks after the manager asked him to leave (again, assuming that drunk was actually Cook). I have a hard time believing that anyone could clearly identify a single person in a packed restaurant/bar after a year had passed. No doubt Cook was trashed, and should not have been driving, but this prosecution is failing at proving intent/malice. People say he drank and drove which proves intent since he knew he could possibly harm himself or someone else. Hunters go in the woods with guns fully knowing they could be injured or accidentally kill someone, yet that wouldn't be considered 2nd degree murder.

  • Sherlock Feb 21, 2011

    Well the Judge just gave the defense a great reaso to move for a miss trial in the case.

  • anastasia Feb 21, 2011

    LOL, of course raymond 'understood' his rights, after all, this wasn't his first offense. I would hope this testimony, this line of questioning, 'opens the door' to raymonds past offenses being admitted, if there is a question as to their admissibility.

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