Family of a man fatally struck by an alleged drunk driver before dragged for more than two miles stood sombrely outside a courthouse today where that driver, a former drug addict turned substance abuse counsellor, was arraigned.
Sherri Wilkins, 51, a once respected drug and alcohol counsellor who seemingly turned her life around appeared in a Southern California courtroom on Tuesday facing charges in death of 31-year-old Phillip Moreno.
Mr Moreno, 31, was crossing a street in Torrance on late Saturday night when he was hit by Wilkins’ Mitsubishi Eclipse, Torrance police Sgt. Robert Watt said.
She drove with the man on her hood for 2.3 miles, only stopping near Crenshaw Boulevard and 182nd Street when other motorists desperately persuaded her to pull over, police said.
Wilkins later said that she had panicked after the accident causing her to keep driving.
Mr Moreno was found still conscious while partially embedded in the hood and windshield of her car when paramedics arrived but was later pronounced dead at hospital.
‘I hope justice is served for my cousin,’ a mourning relative told KTLA. ’He was an innocent, kind, loving, goofy kid who meant no harm to anyone.’
There were no witnesses who saw Wilkins hit him but she was going so fast that Mr Moreno was knocked out of his shoes and shorts.
Wilkins, who told officers she was driving home from work, had blood alcohol that was more than double the legal limit.
Entering in an orange jumpsuit on Tuesday, Moreno was charged on suspicion of driving under the influence and manslaughter, said Sgt. Watt.
Despite her spotty background, including a previous hit-and-run arrest, her employer, David Lisonbee, CEO of Twin Tower Treatment, said Wilkins always earned high marks with her patients and didn’t show any signs of a relapse at work.
Describing the new grandmother as ‘an incredibly sweet person,’ Mr Lisonbee said it wasn’t unusual for drug and alcohol counsellors to have addiction in their own past, as well as trouble with the law, because it helps them connect with their patients.
‘This absolutely came out of the blue. If I were to rank someone for risk of relapse, she would be pretty low on the list,’ he said.
He said that the situation was ‘tragic’, adding that Wilkins had not worked at the center in the days before the accident.
Mr Lisonbee said he didn’t know what Wilkins had been addicted to prior to the accident.
He added that the situation highlights the need for counselors – many of whom are recovering addicts – to put their own recovery first before helping others.
Wilkins’s previous hit-and-run arrest in Torrance was from May 30 of 2010 when she smashed into a power pole less than two miles from where she stopped with Mr Moreno on her vehicle.
Charges were not pursued because Wilkins had no alcohol in her system nor was she found to be under the influence of other substances, according to Assistant City Attorney Patrick Sullivan.
An agreement was reached between Wilkins and owners of the other vehicles, and the hit-and-run case was dismissed, he said.
She had a petty theft conviction with a prior in 1992 and was sentenced to 16 months in prison.
In 1994, she was convicted with a co-defendant on one count of burglary and was sentenced to nine years in prison.
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