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Addiction counselor's DUI murder case begins

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POSTED January 13, 2014 9:50 p.m.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — An alcohol counselor driving drunk at night struck a pedestrian and continued on for another 2 miles while the man was lodged in her windshield, a prosecutor said in an opening statement Monday.

The driver, Sherri Lynn Wilkins, also failed to call 911 or stop as the man lay dying, Deputy District Attorney John Harlan told jurors. In the critical moments after the November 2012 collision, Wilkins "drove him closer to his death," Harlan said.

"This case is about holding her responsible for his death," he told jurors.

Wilkins has pleaded not guilty to murder, driving under the influence and felony hit-and-run. She faces up to 45 years to life in prison if convicted.

Harlan said the force of the crash caused 31-year-old Phillip Moreno to flip over and land on Wilkins' car, punching a large hole on the passenger's side of her windshield. Moreno's pants and one of his shoes also were blown off, he said.

Harlan showed jurors still photos from a nearby surveillance camera taken the night of the crash that shows Moreno's body on the front portion of the car. Some of Moreno's family members wiped away tears as the pictures were being shown in court.

Wilkins "did not render aid to him. She didn't stop," Harlan said. "She kept moving."

It wasn't until passing motorists noticed the bizarre scene that they were able to swarm Wilkins car at a traffic light and keep her there until police arrived.

Harlan said Wilkins' blood alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit following the crash. He said officers found two empty mini vodka bottles and a Budweiser Clamato can in her car.

Deputy Public Defender Nanzella Whitfield said that Wilkins drank the mini vodka bottles a few minutes before hitting Moreno and said it wasn't possible that she could be drunk when the collision occurred.

"At the point of impact, she was not under the influence of alcohol," Whitfield said.

Whitfield added that Moreno took off his pants and may have tried to jump her client's car before being struck. Once Moreno landed on the car, Wilkins panicked and was hysterical, Whitfield said.

"She just freaked out," she said. "She didn't know what to do."

Wilkins, who had battled heroin addiction, had written about turning her life around after a long history of convictions that included burglary and possessing narcotics. She was working at Twin Town Treatment Centers at the time of the crash, working with other addicts in a group setting.

One of those people happened to be Moreno's brother-in-law Marco Salgado, who voluntarily entered the facility a month before the crash to deal with excessive drinking. Salgado testified Monday that Wilkins told him she had been sober for four years. Two weeks before the crash, Wilkins warned that if she had another drink there could be a disastrous outcome.

"She was afraid that if she drank again she would kill someone or end up in jail," Salgado recalled Wilkins saying to him. "I just felt she was in trouble for the longest time and she got a chance."

The trial is expected to take three weeks.

 

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