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Suit filed against Torrance rehab center in fatal drunk driving case

Wrongful death lawsuit filed against drug rehab center in Torrance, where DUI suspect worked as a counselor

The family of a Torrance man killed by a drunk driver who was a substance-abuse counselor filed a wrongful death lawsuit Thursday against the drug rehab center where she worked.

Sherri Wilkins, who was employed by Twin Town Treatment Center in Torrance, is serving a 55-year-to-life prison sentence for the death of 31-year-old Phillip Moreno, whom she struck with her car on Nov. 24, 2012.

At the time of the crash, Wilkins told police she was heading home from work. The treatment center denies she was working at the facility that day.

The wrongful death lawsuit filed Thursday morning in Los Angeles Superior Court alleges that the treatment center was negligent because it failed to properly monitor Wilkins.

Several witnesses, including a brother-in-law of the victim, say Wilkins would doze off during treatment sessions and appeared to be under the influence of drugs and alcohol, according to an attorney representing Moreno's family.

"This organization could have absolutely prevented this accident and shares responsibility for what happened," said attorney Brian Kabateck. "If they had caught her drinking and using drugs they could've terminated her employment or at least got her drug and alcohol rehabilitation themselves." 

Kabateck said the center would conduct drug tests on clients but would not do the same for its employees.

David Lisonbee, chief executive of Twin Town Treatment Center, said in a written statement that the center had not received a formal notice about the lawsuit.

"Twin Town had no knowledge of Ms. Wilkins' relapse," Lisonbee said, adding that she had received good ratings from supervisors and clients up to the day of the incident. "We had no cause to intrude or challenge her recovery."

Lisonbee said scheduling and time sheet records show that Wilkins was not scheduled and did not work on the day of the fatal accident. He also said that the treatment center closes around 2 p.m. on Saturdays, well before the evening crash.

"The incident occurred well outside of our business hours," Lisonbee said.

Torrance police said Wilkins had a blood-alcohol level of more than double the legal 0.08% limit. Wilkins, police said, drove more than two miles with Moreno’s body stuck in her windshield until motorists forced her to stop and detained her.

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