HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Six years ago, Kayla Gerdes described herself as a “train wreck.” Then, at age 18, the Long Island woman made national news with her emotional perp walk after running over and killing a doctor while high on drugs.

Now, after several years of recovery, Gerdes opens up to CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan on her experiences and growth since that fateful day.

“Today I use my pain as my purpose,” Gerdes said.

In 2010, Rebecca Twine, of Hempstead, was gardening when Gerdes barreled across the lawn in her van, running over the 69-year-old doctor.

Kayla Gerdes in April 2010 (credit: CBS 2)

Kayla Gerdes in April 2010 (credit: CBS 2)

Gerdes later admitted she was hooked on cocaine, heroin, oxycodone and Xanax, and pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

“Through a drug addiction, I took somebody’s life because I was high on drugs, driving in a vehicle,” Gerdes said.

Members of the Family Treatment and Recovery Center in Hempstead were taken by Gerdes’ childhood. Gerdes, a victim of child molestation, started doing drugs when she was 11 years old, even dealing drugs while she was in jail.

While serving time, Gerdes began to turn her life around, earning a college degree with the help of mentors.

“It doesn’t matter where you’ve come from or how far to the ground you’ve been kicked, you can get back up with renewed purpose and renewed strength and make something even more of yourself,” Gerdes said.

Now, Gerdes is mentoring at Riker’s Island, enrolled at Columbia University and hopes to one day open a halfway house for women.

Twine’s family told CBS2 it will take a lifetime of service to begin to fill the shoes of their deceased mother, and they hope Gerdes has the committment and compassion for that task.

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