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Calif. driver accused of killing man while drunk worked as alcohol counselor

  • (Torrance) Daily Breeze
  • Published Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, at 12:04 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, at 11:20 a.m.

Driver continues after accident

— The alleged drunken driver who police say struck a pedestrian and drove for more than two miles in Torrance with the dying victim stuck in her windshield has a degree in drug and alcohol counseling and manages a sober living facility, according to her MySpace page.

“I used to be into drugs very heavy,” Sherri Lynn Wilkins wrote on her page, which highlights material from 2009 and 2010. “With that came terrible choices, the loss of all my family and freedom.”

Wilkins, 51, of Torrance was arrested Saturday night when horrified motorists and other citizens surrounded her car at Crenshaw Boulevard and 182nd Street. The victim, Phillip Moreno, 31, of Torrance was embedded in her windshield, but alive. He died a short time later at a hospital.

Police said Wilkins hit Moreno at 11:25 p.m. as she headed west on Torrance Boulevard at Madrid Avenue. Moreno had just spent the evening with friends at The Branch Office bar and was crossing the street near some railroad tracks to walk to his nearby home.

After hitting him, Wilkins panicked and kept driving, turning right on Crenshaw Boulevard and heading north, police said. She lives on 182nd Street between Hawthorne Boulevard and Prairie Avenue, and might have been headed home.

Police said her blood-alcohol content was twice the legal limit for driving.

Although it was unclear when she created her MySpace page under the name “Sherry Lynn” and when she wrote her profile information, Wilkins listed her occupation as “drug and alcohol counselor.” In the smoke/drink category, she wrote “No/No.”

“I have been drug free for 11 years, and have a degree in drug and alcohol counseling, soon I will have my BA,” she wrote. “I manage a sober living facility and I love life today.”

Wilkins wrote that she signed up for MySpace to locate family members. She also noted that four of her children were back in her life and that she wanted to meet her sister and her brother and their children.

Wilkins listed her religion as Buddhist and described herself as a “proud parent.”

Police arrested Wilkins on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and drunken driving. She is being held in county jail on $100,000 bail and was scheduled for arraignment Monday in Torrance court.

Wilkins, who told police she was coming from work, was charged previously with a similar crime on July 16, 2010. County court records show she faced charges of driving under the influence, leaving the scene of an accident, and being under the influence of a controlled substance. However, the case either was dismissed or not prosecuted, records show.

News of her arrest and involvement in an alcohol-related death shocked at least one patient at the Twin Town Treatment Centers in Torrance, where Wilkins has been working. Wilkins counseled as many as 50 people at the facility, located just a couple of blocks from where she struck Moreno.

The patient called Wilkins a “great person” for helping him to stay sober and drug-free for three months. But he said he feels betrayed after learning about what she allegedly had done.

“She is our counselor and she is drinking on the job?” the patient said. “She is drinking while she’s supposed to be a counselor.”

Wilkins told her groups that she was an alcohol and heroin addict and had served 13 years in prison, but had been sober for eight years, the patient said. She provided counseling on how to deal with urges and cravings for alcohol and drugs, such as calling a friend for help. Wilkins also showed videos on how to avoid alcohol and drugs.

“I’m very angry. I depend on this program a lot as a recovering drug and alcohol addict,” the patient said. “Thank God I’m sober right now. (But) everything she said is nonsense. If it didn’t work for her, how is it going to work for us?

“I know what alcohol and drugs can do to you. She is just like one of us,” the patient said. “I feel bad for her but she has to pay the consequence.”

One of Wilkins’ patients was a brother-in-law of Moreno. The relative, who works for the city of Torrance, was dispatched to the accident scene to put up barriers while police investigated. The man learned while working there that the victim was his brother-in-law, the patient said.

David Lisonbee, president of Twin Town Corp., said Wilkins has been working for the Torrance center for about a year. She is among many people addicted to drugs or alcohol who choose to work in the field as counselors for others in recovery, he said.

Wilkins received high marks in an alcohol studies program and underwent a professional background check when she was hired.

He called Wilkins one of the “sweetest” people he has met.

“The holidays in particular are a very high-risk time for relapse,” he said. “No one is immune from relapsing. … We hope the people understand we are not bad people, we are sick people.”

Lisonbee said Wilkins showed no signs of at-risk behavior. He doubted her story that she had just left work because the facility has no evening sessions on Saturdays, a day Wilkins does not work. It was possible, he said, that she stopped by the facility to file a report.

“I feel horrible,” Lisonbee said. “I’m really saddened at the impact this has on the (Moreno) family. It’s just horribly tragic.”

In a statement Monday on behalf of the Moreno family, attorney Kevin Danesh said relatives had “suffered the tragic and unimaginable loss of their beloved son and brother Phillip. They appreciate the support of family, friends and neighbors and want to extend a special thanks to the members of the Torrance community and the first responders that tried to lend comfort to Phillip in his final moments.

“Lastly, the family would appreciate privacy while they mourn their loss.”

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