Local News

Expert: Cook was traveling at least 75 to 82 mph at impact

Posted February 23, 2011 12:47 p.m. EST
Updated February 24, 2011 9:45 a.m. EST

— A crash reconstruction expert testified Wednesday that Raymond Cook was traveling at least 75 to 82 mph when he crashed into the back of a Hyundai Elantra, killing Elena Bright Shapiro, 20, 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 Shapiro, a dancer with the Carolina Ballet.

Chris Bradford, a Raleigh police officer and crash reconstruction expert, said Wednesday that Cook's minimum speed at the time of impact is estimated at 75 to 82 mph. 

Defense attorneys tried to discredit Bradford's testimony by arguing that evidence doesn't show how fast Shapiro was traveling when she turned on to Strickland Road, so Bradford's reconstruction calculations are only based on assumptions.

Bradford contended that he relied on observations made at the intersection after the crash to determine that people typically turn from Lead Mine Road to Strickland Road at a speed of 5 to 15 mph.

If Shapiro was traveling 5 mph, Bradford said, Cook's minimum speed at impact would be 82 mph. If she was traveling 15 mph, his minimum speed would be 75 mph, Bradford said.

Bradford was on the stand earlier Wednesday when prosecutors showed jurors photos of Cook's Mercedes-Benz, Shapiro's Hyundai Elantra, skid marks left by tires on the road and other photos of the crash scene.

One photo, which WRAL News is not posting online, shows the inside of Shapiro's car after the crash. Bradford pointed out to jurors a large blood stain on the passenger seat and a clump of Shapiro's blonde hair, which was torn out in the crash and can be seen behind the driver's seat.

The photo also shows keys in the ignition, the car still in drive and the driver's seat slightly elevated and pushed forward near the steering wheel. One of Shapiro's flip-flops is also seen in the car near her seat belt buckle.

Other photos can be seen in this slideshow.

A Mercedes-Benz expert testified Tuesday that Cook's car was traveling 88 mph before he crashed into Shapiro's Hyundai at Strickland and Lead Mine roads. The posted speed limit in that area is 45 mph.

An emergency room doctor testified last week that Cook's blood-alcohol concentration was 0.24. An alcohol testing expert testified Tuesday that Cook's blood-alcohol concentration may have been closer to 0.20. Defense attorneys argues that scientific standard deviation could drop that number to 0.17.

Under North Carolina law, a driver is considered impaired with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08.

Witnesses have testified that Cook drank alcohol at the Raleigh Country Club and later at Piper's Tavern prior to the fatal crash.

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.