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Family of man killed by alleged drunk driver: Death 'unimaginable'

The family of a Torrance man allegedly killed by a substance-abuse counselor driving drunk described the death of their "beloved son and brother" as "tragic and unimaginable."

Attorney Kevin Danesh released a statement Monday on behalf of Phillip Moreno's family, saying relatives "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."

Police said Sherri Wilkins, 51, hit Moreno as he tried to cross Torrance Boulevard on Saturday night and kept driving more than two miles with the 31-year-old embedded in her windshield. Other motorists managed to stop her at 182nd Street and Crenshaw Boulevard and grab her keys, Sgt. Robert Watt said.

Moreno had a pulse when officers arrived but was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Watt said Wilkins had a blood-alcohol level more than double the 0.08 legal limit.

Wilkins was booked on suspicion of driving under the influence and manslaughter, but Watt said additional charges were possible at her arraignment, which was expected Tuesday.

Wilkins had a certification in drug and alcohol counseling and worked at a Torrance treatment center, where she led small-group classes six evenings a week. She wrote in an undated Myspace profile that "she used to be into drugs very heavy" and "with that came terrible choices," but that she had been sober for 11 years.

Watt said she told police she was on her way home from work at the time of the crash, but officials at the treatment center said it had only daytime meetings on Saturdays and was closed.

"There was absolutely nothing that gave us an indication that she was in a danger zone," said David Lisonbee, president of Twin Town Treatment Centers.

"We feel just absolutely appalled and horrified that this happened to both families," he added. "It's a horrible tragedy."

In 2010, Wilkins faced charges of driving under the influence, hit and run and being under the influence of a controlled substance after she allegedly hit a power pole at the intersection of 182nd Street and Hawthorne Boulevard — less than two miles from where Moreno was pulled from her windshield.

Wilkins dragged the pole into the road, where a few other cars struck it and were damaged, said Patrick Sullivan, assistant city attorney for Torrance.

That case, however, was eventually dismissed. Sullivan said Wilkins' blood-alcohol level came back at zero and the levels of drugs were "so low" an expert couldn't testify there was an impairment. Wilkins reached a civil compromise with the other drivers.

Watt said it was "hard to say" if Moreno would have survived had Wilkins stopped earlier. The 18-year police veteran called the incident "mind-boggling."

"I've never seen this," Watt said. "It shows you how impaired she must have been."

At a makeshift memorial at the corner where Moreno was struck, friends described the Torrance man as a jokester, someone who loved sports and having a good time.

A man who went to high school with Moreno's older brother, who gave his name only as Armando, said he couldn't believe the driver didn't stop.

"At least pull over," he said. "There's a gas station right there. Pull in and say you made a mistake, drop him off and flee if you want."

Danesh said a memorial fund had been established to help Moreno's family cover medical and funeral expenses. Donations can be made online or deposited to the "Phillip Moreno Memorial Fund" at Torrance Community Federal Credit Union.

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— Kate Mather and Ruben Vives

 
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