Substance Abuse Counselor Convicted In Bizarre DUI Death

By Terri Vermeulen Keith, City News Service

A substance abuse counselor who “mowed” down a man with her car in Torrance after drinking alcohol, then drove more than two miles with him embedded in the windshield, was convicted Tuesday of second-degree murder, two counts of DUI and hit and run.

Sherri Lynn Wilkins’ attorney had contended that the victim jumped on Wilkins’ car and she “panicked,” but was not impaired.

Sentencing for Wilkins, 52, was set for March 26.

Authorities said Wilkins struck Moreno on Torrance Boulevard near Madrid Avenue on Nov. 24, 2012, and drove 2.2 miles with Moreno embedded in the windshield of her car before another motorist directed her to pull over.

Wilkins smoked a cigarette as bystanders tried to help the injured man when she eventually stopped her Mitsubishi Eclipse at Crenshaw Boulevard and 182nd Street, Deputy District Attorney Saman Ahmadpour said.

The 31-year-old Torrance resident later died at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

“This was not an accident, ladies and gentlemen. … This was murder,” Ahmadpour told the Los Angeles Superior Court jury in closing arguments of Wilkins’ trial.

“She didn’t just come across Phillip Moreno. She mowed him down,” the prosecutor said. “She knocked him out of his pants. She knocked him out of his shoes.”

The prosecutor told jurors that Wilkins took Moreno as he was “stuck on her windshield for over two miles trying to get home,” arguing that the Torrance woman failed to immediately stop to check on his welfare or to notify authorities what had happened and swerved her car to try to “shake him off.”

“She was clearly intoxicated that evening,” Ahmadpour argued.

Defense attorney Nan Whitfield, however, described Moreno as being drunk, and said her client “did not strike” the man.

“A naked man 20 years her junior jumped on her car. That’s the bottom line …,” Wilkins’ lawyer told jurors. “She was panicked, panicked.”

Whitfield challenged the allegation that her client was drunk at the time, saying alcohol she drank just before getting behind the wheel had not yet gotten into her system and impaired her driving ability. A blood sample that reflected a 0.15 percent blood-alcohol content was taken about 1 1/2 hours after the collision.

“She is not guilty of any of these offenses,” the defense attorney told jurors.

Outside court after the verdict, Whitfield said, “I think it was an outrage. I think it’ll be back on appeal.”

Harlan said the case was a “complete tragedy” that was “preventable.”

“I think the jury properly condemned that conduct …,” he said. “She could have stopped when he was in her windshield.”

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February 6, 2014  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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