Prosecutors said Raymond Cook killed a young woman who had her whole life ahead of her.
"The bright candle that was Elena Shapiro was snuffed out forever," said prosecutor is Adam Moyers.
Cook is charged with second-degree murder, felony death by motor vehicle, and driving while impaired in the death of 20-year-old Shapiro. Police say Cook was intoxicated and driving more than 80 miles an hour in a 45 mph zone just before he crashed into Shapiro's car on Strickland Road in Raleigh on September 11, 2009.
Shapiro - of Winston-Salem - was a dancer with the Carolina Ballet.
"This is not a car accident. This is a collision that was the result of the choices of that man," said Moyers,
Witnesses said Cook was seen at Piper's Tavern on Falls of the Neuse Road drinking with an unidentified woman before the accident.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Roger Smith, Jr. said the woman was a coworker that Cook met to talk about work issues after he spent the day playing golf and drinking with friends at the Raleigh Country Club.
Smith said the jury would hear various witnesses talk about Cook's actions and manner on the night of the crash - saying some would describe him as obviously drunk, while others said he was coherent.
Smith said the defense would not contest the fact that Cook drank alcohol or was driving fast the night of the crash, but Smith said it would ask the jury not to find Cook guilty of second-degree murder. Smith said the definition of second-degree murder called for the jury to find malice, and he said there was no evidence of that.
Following the crash, Cook gave up his medical license and left positions he once held at WakeMed and the UNC School of Medicine. According to WakeMed hospital's website, Cook was a facial reconstructive expert.
Cook's trial was supposed to begin in November, but an error on an indictment forced a delay.
ABC11 has confirmed that this was not the first time Cook had been charged with going well over the speed limit while intoxicated.
In 1989 in Camden County, Georgia, he was stopped for doing 110 in 65 miles-per-hour zone. He was also charged with DWI.
Court records in North Carolina show that same year he was charged with DWI in this state, but the charges were dropped.
Three years earlier, he was charged with driving too fast for conditions.