Local News

Officer: Cook said ballerina ran red light before fatal crash

Posted February 21, 2011 9:19 a.m. EST
Updated February 24, 2011 9:45 a.m. EST

— 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.

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.