TORRANCE, Calif. (AP) - The convertible hit
Phillip Moreno so hard it knocked him out of his shoes and lodged him in
As he lay dying on the
hood, police said, Sherri Lynn Wilkins kept going another two miles
until other motorists swarmed her car at a traffic light and grabbed her
Wilkins, who was charged
Tuesday with murder and driving drunk, told police she struck the man
after leaving work and panicked. Police said her blood alcohol level was
more than double the legal limit.
Her arrest on a street
corner between home and her job as a drug and alcohol counselor seemed
to be a return to a dark past that Wilkins once celebrated leaving
behind. The convict and recovering addict had recently gone back to
school, gotten a job and was reuniting with her family, including a new
"It's a really tragic
situation for both parties," said her neighbor, Crystal Witherspoon.
"I'm trying to understand it myself, because from what I knew of her,
she was a kind-hearted person. She was trying very hard."
Tami Jimenez, a recovering
alcoholic who worked with Wilkins, said the case serves as a bitter
reminder for all addicts about the dangers of relapse.
"I'm headed for meeting
tonight," she said. "It's unfortunate and it's tragic and it's sad, but
it's a reminder that the disease of addiction can take you out at any
Wilkins' arraignment was
postponed until next month at a brief court hearing Tuesday. She was
ordered held on $2.25 million bail.
Twenty members of Moreno's
extended family attended the hearing and spoke afterward of the
fun-loving man who adored the Lakers and the Raiders and was a whiz at
remembering sports statistics. Moreno was nicknamed "Chud" because of
his love of Budweiser beer and spent his last day watching college
football with friends.
"We thank the citizens who
stopped Wilkins and gave him some peace in his waning moments," family
attorney Kevin Danesh said outside court. "Anyone who would dare to
drink and drive, let this be a lesson to them."
Danesh said the family is
also seeking answers about where Wilkins was before the accident. Her
boss has said it was unlikely she was coming from work, as she told
police, so late on a Saturday.
Moreno had three beers at a
bar called The Branch Office just a half-block from the accident scene
on Saturday and left around 11 p.m. to walk home, said bartender
Virginia Zarate. Less than an hour later, police swarmed the streets,
tracing their way back to the initial impact, she said.
"We started seeing a bunch
of lights and we went out and the cops said it was a hit-and-run, but we
had no clue who it was," she said as a memorial of balloons, flowers
and candles sprouted up down the street.
Wilkins' arrest shocked
friends, who said she was working to rebuild her life after a criminal
record stretching back more than 20 years.
She attended Loyola
Marymount University where she was enrolled in an alcohol and drug
counseling certification program and was hired by Twin Town Treatment
Centers a year ago to work with other addicts in a group setting, said
David Lisonbee, the company CEO.
She ran evening sessions at
the Torrance location and consistently received high marks on
evaluations by patients, he said. Wilkins often stayed late to meet
one-on-one with patients who were struggling and helped one client with
homework assignments after realizing he couldn't read, Jimenez said.
"We've gotten some calls
from people saying, 'She really saved my life,'" Jimenez said.
"Everybody loved Sherri, the employees, the patients, just everybody
Most recently, Wilkins was
thrilled with the birth of her granddaughter - her first grandchild -
but struggled with ankle pain from an accident and was considering
surgery to fix the problem, Jimenez said.
On her Myspace profile,
Wilkins noted that she had been drug-free for 11 years, was a Buddhist
and was planning trips to Chicago to see her daughter, a medical intern,
and to Hawaii.
"I used to be into drugs
very heavy, with that came terrible choices, the loss of all my family
and freedom. Today four of my children are in my life," Wilkins wrote.
Lisonbee, her boss, confirmed the woman on the Myspace profile was Wilkins.
Court records show Wilkins
was convicted of first-degree burglary in 1989 and a month later of
having narcotics while in custody. In 1994, she was convicted along with
a co-defendant on one count of burglary and given nine years in prison.
In 2001, Wilkins was
convicted of having a controlled substance into a jail or a prison, said
Luis Patino, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections.
Prison records show she was paroled in 2008, he said.
Two years later, Wilkins
was arrested for hit-and-run after she knocked over a power pole that
was then hit by three other cars, said Assistant City Attorney Patrick
She had no alcohol or drugs
in her system, however, and the case was dismissed when she and the
owners of other vehicles reached an agreement, he said.
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