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DUI suspect who struck man is addiction counselor

TORRANCE, Calif. (AP) -- Sherri Wilkins' past was checkered with addiction, crime and prison time, but in a matter of years, she had become a well-liked drug and alcohol counselor. Yet authorities said she was under the influence over the weekend when she drove into a pedestrian and killed him.

Sherri Wilkins, 51, was due in court Tuesday after she was arrested late Saturday on suspicion of driving under the influence and manslaughter, Torrance police Sgt. Robert Watt said.

Phillip Moreno, 31, was crossing the street when he was hit, knocked off his shoes and shorts, Watt said. Police said Wilkins drove with him on the hood until other motorists persuaded her to stop. Wilkins said later that she panicked after the accident and kept driving.

Despite her spotty background, including a previous hit-and-run arrest, her employer, David Lisonbee, CEO of Twin Tower Treatment, said she 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,” Lisonbee said it wasn't unusual for drug and alcohol counselors 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.

Lisonbee said he didn't know what Wilkins had been addicted to prior to the accident.

Wilkins's previous hit-and-run arrest in Torrance was from May 30, 2010. 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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Associated Press reporter Linda Deutsch contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

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