TORRANCE, Calif. — A substance abuse counselor was charged with murder and drunken-driving Tuesday after authorities said she struck a pedestrian and drove for more than two miles with the dying victim embedded in the windshield of her car.
Sherri Wilkins, 51, was also charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and leaving the scene of an accident, the district attorney's office said in a statement.
The victim, 31-year-old Phillip Moreno, was struck late Saturday while crossing a street. Witnesses surrounded the car about two miles later and detained Wilkins. Moreno died at a hospital.
Wilkins later told police she panicked after the accident and kept driving.
Wilkins is being held on $2.25 million bail. She was expected to be arraigned later Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court in suburban Torrance.
If convicted, she could face life in prison.
Wilkins is a former addict who seemingly had turned her life around and was a respected drug and alcohol counselor, said her boss David Lisonbee.
Despite her spotty background, including a previous hit-and-run arrest, Wilkins always earned high marks with her patients and didn't show any signs of a relapse at work, said Lisonbee, CEO of Twin Tower Treatment.
Describing the new grandmother as “an incredibly sweet person,” he said it wasn't unusual for drug and alcohol counselors to have addiction in their own past, as well as trouble with the law. Those circumstances help them connect with patients, he said.
“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.
Lisonbee said he didn't know what Wilkins had been addicted to.
Wilkins's previous hit-and-run arrest in Torrance came on May 30, 2010. Charges were not pursued because she had no alcohol in her system and was not 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.
In 1994, she was convicted with a co-defendant on one count of burglary and sentenced to nine years in prison.