If Maryland had tougher anti-drunken driving laws, would Officer Noah Leotta be alive?
The family of the 24-year-old Montgomery County police officer hit by a suspected drunken driver in December urged state lawmakers on Wednesday to make in-car blood alcohol level-testing devices mandatory for anyone convicted of driving drunk.
Rich Leotta, the late officer's father, shouted as he delivered remarks in Annapolis on "Noah's Law."
"It's not a Democrat or Republican issue. It's not a polarizing issue. And it's not a controversial issue!" he said, holding his son's police badge.
Anti-drunken driving advocates and lawmakers have tried for years to get a law passed in Maryland that would require convicted drunken drivers to blow into a device the size of a cellphone to get a blood alcohol content reading before their vehicles will start.
But the bill has faced opposition from the liquor lobby, never making it out of the House judiciary committee.
"Gosh darn it, people are losing their lives because they want to sell more alcohol, make more money," Rich Leotta said.
Officer Noah Leotta was critically injured the evening of Dec. 3 after he had volunteered to work on a special holiday alcohol-enforcement patrol.
"This officer was killed serving the public, trying to prevent the exact crime that killed him," Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said.
Leotta was stopping a suspected drunken driver at Rockville Pike and Edmonston Drive in Rockville, Maryland, and was outside his cruiser when Luis Gustavo Reluzco, 47, smashed into the police car and then struck him, police said.
Leotta, who would have been with the Montgomery County police department three years in January, was rushed to a hospital with significant trauma. He died Dec. 10.
After Leotta's death, the police chief spoke furiously about inadequate penalties against drunk drivers.
"The state of Maryland has some of the weakest penalties for drunk drivers," he said. "Until the state of Maryland starts taking these crimes -- and I'm talking about the crime of a drunk driver behind the wheel of a car who's killing someone -- until they take this crime seriously, there is no justice for these families. There is no justice for these victims."
Reluzco, who still had not been charged in Leotta's death as of Wednesday, previously was arrested twice for drunken driving, Manger said.
Rich Leotta said he's fighting for stricter anti-DUI laws in Maryland to honor his son's memory.
"I need to do this. Because I don't want my son forgotten," he said, his voice quavering.
Only repeat drunken drivers and drivers described as having been excessively drunk are currently ordered to use the ignition interlock devices in Maryland. Mothers Against Drunk Driving said laws requiring their use save lives.
Car-locking systems have stopped more than 1.77 million people from driving drunk since states first passed laws in 1999 requiring offenders to install them, MADD said Wednesday in a first-of-its-kind national report.
Twenty-five states have laws that require ignition interlocks for all offenders following any drunken-driving offense.
Rich Leotta said he and his wife, who both are recently retired, will devote their lives to getting Noah's Law passed.
"It would be an honor," he said.