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Officer: Cook said ballerina ran red light before fatal crash

Posted February 21, 2011
Updated February 24, 2011

— A doctor accused of driving drunk and crashing into a young woman's car 17 months ago, killing her, told his wife the night of the crash that the young woman ran a red light and "T-boned his vehicle," a Raleigh police officer testified Monday.

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

Raleigh police officer Bryce Merold testified Monday that while waiting with Cook at the hospital, Cook's wife went to the hospital, and Merold said he listened as the two talked.

"Mr. Cook stated he was traveling down Lead Mine (Road), turning on Strickland (Road), when another vehicle ran a red light and T-boned his vehicle," Merold testified.

But prosecutors have presented evidence that Cook was traveling 90 mph when he crashed into the back of Shapiro's vehicle at Lead Mine and Strickland roads. Witnesses have testified that they saw Cook drinking at a local country club and at a local tavern prior to the crash.

"He had red, bloodshot eyes. They were glassy. I could detect a strong odor of alcohol, (and he had) slurred speech," Merold said. "I asked Mr. Cook how much he had to drink that night. He said he had nothing to drink and was sober."

An emergency room doctor testified last week that Cook had a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.245 reading when he arrived at WakeMed North the night of the crash. Cook submitted to additional testing, which confirmed the result.

Superior Court Judge Osmond Smith denied a motion on Monday to suppress the results of the tests after Cook’s defense attorneys argued their client was denied his right to have a witness for the blood test.

Gwynne Cook Cook's wife testifies outside of jury's presence

After about an hour of arguments from attorneys and testimony from Cook’s wife, Gwynne Cook, Smith ruled outside the presence of the jury that the evidence was admissible.

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

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

Shapiro's friends describe the day she died

Two of Shapiro's friends took the stand Monday to tell jurors about Shapiro's last day and how they found out she had died.

Lauren Browning, Shapiro's roommate and fellow ballet dancer, said Shapiro went to dance class that morning. Browning went to work at the Cheesecake Factory that afternoon, and the two planned to meet up at their friends' house that night for a housewarming party.

"When I checked my voicemail around 10 (p.m.), I had three missed calls – one from Elena, one from her mother and one from her sister," Browning said.

After learning that her friend had died, Browning said she drove back to their apartment and came upon the crash scene.

"Both of the cars (Shapiro's and Cook's) were still there," she said. "(Police) got her bags out of the car for me so I could bring them to her family ... I went back to the apartment and got things together … clothing for whatever the week would hold and her cat."

Ashley Hathaway said she spent the day of the crash rehearsing with Shapiro and the Carolina Ballet for their upcoming performance of Swan Lake.

Hathaway and her roommate were hosting the housewarming party later that day and said Shapiro was supposed to get to their house around 8:30 or 9 p.m. to help set up. When she didn't show up, Hathaway said she called and texted her friend but never heard back.

"When it went straight to voicemail, that’s when it started worrying me," she testified Monday.

Hathaway said she later found her roommate "really upset with her mom, and they told me what happened."

"We just all kind of came together. I called my mom and she came over, and we were just together," Hathaway testified.


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  • ranquick Feb 23, 2011

    I am thinking that if he Appeals this on grounds the Judge madean incorrect decision he will be grant a new trial. How can we charge this man with 2nd degree murder when the woman who KILLED her step child is also charged with 2nd Degree. Vehicle manslaughter is what he wil most likey get in the end and time served.

  • Go Figure Feb 22, 2011


  • Go Figure Feb 22, 2011

    With all that alcohol (which actually is made of a form of sugar), I imagine his glucose level was rather high, thus giving him that extra boost of energy.

  • Go Figure Feb 22, 2011

    Glad this man was never MY doctor, even by chance, seeing that Mr Cook shows NO remorse or even compassion for what he did, I imagine his bedside manner was just as cold and calculated.

  • anastasia Feb 22, 2011

    solarflare, I don't believe I heard testimony that RCC gave raymond a BAC, therefore they can't say 'he wasn't drunk'. Especially since they had just served him four 'crown & gingers in one hour. The last in a 'to go' cup. Now if that isn't a laugh on drunk driving I don't know what is. Exactly who came up with 'to go' cups for intoxicating beverages anyway? If raymonds 'normal self' was as a heavy drinker, then yes, he was his 'normal self'. *Most* people could not down four crown & gingers after an afternoon of drinking and golf, and not be too intoxicated to drive. In other words, had raymond blown on the testing meter, I'd bet good money he's have blown well in excess of .08, the legal limit.

  • luxurytravel Feb 22, 2011

    Still have not explained how you get a BAC level as high as his. They proved he was drunk and what his BAC was. Maybe they don't have to prove "how" since that prior testimony has already been allowed?

  • anastasia Feb 22, 2011

    @ Happy & Anastasia: I think I read on WRAL that Cook had 1 other DUI in 1989 - when he was a stupid teenager (18 or 19 I think). It's very possible Gwynne didn't even know about it since it happened long before they were married. He has already proven he is a liar...

    By my count from reports, solarflare, this is raymonds 4th run in with the law for speeding/and/or/DWI. Just cause he 'got off' doesn't mean it didn't happen.

  • solarflare40 Feb 22, 2011

    anastasia: They said he was like his normal self, and went further to say he did not seem drunk or intoxicated at all. How exactly does that statement lead you to the conclusion that Cook drove drunk on a regular basis? "They" said he was NOT drunk.

  • anastasia Feb 22, 2011

    JAT, that's what I wondered too. Why was the wife out driving, where had she been, and where was she headed that night? Shouldn't she have been home, waiting for raymond?

    InterestedDoc, I'm sure mr smith will have plenty of cross-exam as to why these Mercedes computers are all screwed up, where they are made, who assembled them, etc.

    mr. cook, throw yourself on the mercy of the court and beg forgiveness, take responsiblity for your actions in the death of Elena Shapiro. I don't care of you have to carry an onion in your handkerchief to muster up some tears for what you've done. Attempt to show some REMORSE, how ever phony it might be.

  • Go Figure Feb 22, 2011

    JAT, I think the wife was out looking for him because he was late or she hadn't heard from him. But I feel she would have said she had seen him earlier in the day if she had.

    Fellow posters, Let's not lose sight of the reason why he is here today, thsi man killed a innocent girl who was in the prime of her life. Not a day goes by since this trial started that I haven't thought about her and her family. It tears at my heart those poor people having to sit there day after day in the same room with him, listening to all the testimonies. Godspeed to them and to Elena.