Local News

Jury views ballerina's crashed car; doctor does not

Posted February 18, 2011 9:56 a.m. EST
Updated February 24, 2011 9:45 a.m. EST

— 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. 

"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.