Local News

Expert: Cook's car going 88 mph before fatal crash

Posted February 22, 2011 11:42 a.m. EST
Updated February 24, 2011 9:45 a.m. EST

— A Mercedes-Benz expert testified Tuesday that Raymond Cook's car was traveling 88 mph before he crashed into a young woman's car, killing her, on Sept. 11, 2009.

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

Steven Lewis, a Mercedes expert, said a sensor inside the car logged the speed as 88 mph before the crash at Strickland and Lead Mine roads. The posted speed limit in that area is 45 mph.

Defense attorneys Tuesday afternoon tried to discredit evidence entered last week that Cook's blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit in emergency room tests.

Paul Glover, a forensic alcohol testing expert and research scientist for the state's Department of Health and Human Services, said hospitals test plasma in the blood to determine alcohol concentration, while state law bases impairment levels on results found in a whole blood sample. Glover said higher concentrations of alcohol always show up in plasma, but that scientists have a conversion method to make the findings comparable to whole blood findings.

Glover said this conversion process puts Cook's blood-alcohol level at 0.20. The defense argued that standard deviation could knock that result down to a 0.17. An emergency room doctor testified last week that Cook's blood-alcohol concentration was 0.24.

A Raleigh Country Club service manager testified Tuesday morning that he served alcohol to Cook the day of the crash. Marcus Grant said Cook seemed his usual "gregarious" self but did not appear to be drunk or impaired, contradicting testimony from a previous witness in Cook's murder trial.

Grant said he served Cook four Crown Royal alcoholic beverages that day, and the doctor drank three. He described the doctor as "a very gregarious, outgoing, talkative" person who was "a bit loud when he's at the club."

Grant said Cook "was not angry" and didn't appear to be tense, which contradicted a previous witness, Lee Panosian, who said he saw Cook at the club the day of the crash and that he was agitated, cursing and appeared drunk .

Grant said he did not recall seeing Panosian at the country club grill that day. However, Grant added that his job as service manager often required him to walk around the club and not stay in one place.

The prosecutor approached the witness stand holding a large picture of Cook's mugshot, slammed it onto the stand and asked Grant: "Would you serve this guy alcohol?"

"I would not," Grant replied.

A defense attorney then asked Grant: "When you last saw Raymond Cook, he didn’t look anything like that (in the mugshot), did he?"

"No, he did not," Grant replied.

A former Raleigh Country Club bartender also testified Tuesday that Cook appeared to be his "usual self" on the day of the crash. Frank Richards said the doctor entered the club wearing medical scrubs, said hello and ordered a salad and iced tea around noon. Richards said he also served Cook two Bud Light beers, which the doctor took on the golf course.

Witnesses have testified that Cook drank alcohol at the country club and later at a local tavern prior to the fatal crash. Police said he then drove approximately 90 mph and crashed into the back of Shapiro's vehicle.

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 help Shapiro after the crash.

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

Prosecutors offered Cook a plea deal in May, but he and his lawyer never agreed to it. Since the wreck, he surrendered his medical license and completed a stint at a rehab clinic.