Local News

Doctor charged with murder in ballerina's traffic death

Posted September 15, 2009 10:55 a.m. EDT
Updated September 23, 2009 6:58 p.m. EDT

— 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."

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."