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Substance-abuse counselor charged in fatal DUI [Google+ hangout]

Times reporter Kate Mather will join city editor Shelby Grad at 1 p.m. for a Google+ hangout about the substance-abuse counselor accused of killing a Torrance man while driving drunk.

Sherri Wilkins, 51, was charged with murder Tuesday and faces life in prison if convicted, prosecutors said. She was scheduled to be arraigned on felony charges of murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, DUI causing injury, drunk driving while causing injury and leaving the scene of an accident, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

From Mather and reporter Ruben Vives' Tuesday story:

Sherri Wilkins wrote in a Myspace profile that she "used to be into drugs very heavy" and "with that came terrible choices."

Wilkins was trying to turn her life around: She wrote that she had been sober for 11 years, had reconnected with family and, according to state records, earned a certification in drug and alcohol counseling. She was working at a Torrance treatment center, helping others battle the addiction she tried to put behind her.

But over the weekend, Wilkins struck a pedestrian while driving drunk on Torrance Boulevard and kept driving for more than two miles with the man embedded in her windshield, police alleged.

Torrance police arrested the 51-year-old on suspicion of driving under the influence and manslaughter. Wilkins told officers she "panicked" after the crash Saturday night and simply kept driving, said Sgt. Robert Watt.

Other motorists managed to stop Wilkins and grab her keys at 182nd Street and Crenshaw Boulevard, Watt said. Phillip Moreno, 31, of Torrance still had a pulse when officers arrived, but was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Wilkins had a blood-alcohol level more than double the legal 0.08% limit, Watt said. He 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 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."

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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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