A Montgomery County police officer died Thursday after he was hit last week by a suspected drunk driver as he conducted an anti-drunk driving enforcement.
Officer Noah Leotta, 24, was critically injured the evening of Dec. 3 as he made a traffic stop at Rockville Pike and Edmonston Drive in Rockville, Maryland. Leotta was outside his cruiser when Luis Gustavo Reluzco, 47, smashed into the police car and then struck the officer, police said.
Leotta, who would have been with the department three years next month, was rushed to a hospital with significant trauma, police said. He succumbed to his injuries on Thursday, Police Chief J. Thomas Manger announced.
Officers from across Maryland gave Leotta a final salute during a police-escorted procession from the hospital to his home station.
"We have lost a great police officer today," Manger said. "This county is worse because Officer Noah Leotta is not out driving around his patrol car, that he is not out here serving the community."
Manger spoke furiously on Thursday about inadequate penalties against drunk drivers.
"The state of Maryland has some of the weakest penalties for drunk drivers, and in fact as we look ahead to the prosecution of this case, I can tell you that whenever it's done, there's little chance of real justice being done," 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."
The night Leotta was struck, 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," Manger said.
"It is ironic that here he was trying to keep the community safe and the roads safe for everyone, yet he was struck by someone who is suspected of having alcohol or drugs in his system," Capt. Paul Starks said earlier this week.
The driver, Reluzco, was not injured, police said. He was taken into police custody but has not been charged.
"This young police officer, who is an example of what every cop should be, was killed by a man who decided to smoke some dope, drink for four hours and get behind the wheel of a car," Manger said, saying the driver had been arrested twice for drunk driving and once for drug possession.
Reluzco refused at the scene to have his blood alcohol level tested using his breath, but was required by state law to submit to a blood test. Those results are pending.
"The public should rest assured that we will pursue this case based on where the evidence takes us," John McCarthy, State's Attorney for Montgomery County, said in a release Thursday.
His statement continued, "It would be premature to discuss the various permutations or possible outcomes at this time because it is an ongoing investigation. We await accident reconstruction reports, blood toxicology reports and a final police report to be screened by police and prosecutors, then we will act accordingly at that time."
Two of the county's most senior prosecutors are handling the case, McCarthy said.
A Montgomery County native, Leotta graduated from Sherwood High School and attended Montgomery College. He interned at the police department for two years before he was hired in January 2013.
"Noah leaves behind a family that is absolutely devastated," Manger said. "He was the son of two just loving, wonderful parents. We have grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, family friends that will never recover from this loss."
He would have marked three years as an officer with the Montgomery County Police Department next month.
"Noah loved his job and demonstrated a level of enthusiasm that drove a work ethic and professionalism that we can all aspire to," Manger said.
Leotta is the 18th Montgomery County officer to die in the line of duty.
Montgomery County officers patrolled streets Thursday night looking for potential drunk drivers, as Leotta had been doing when he was fatally injured.
"It's something that you do because you do believe in the cause of getting impaired drivers off of the road. And he did," Officer John Durham said, with a black stripe placed over his police badge in honor of his late colleague.
Montgomery County Police have shared several ways to honor Officer Leotta's memory.
Those wishing to send condolences to Officer Leotta's family may:
- Email the family at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Send cards or messages to:
Officer Leotta's family has highlighted the following organizations for those wishing to make donations in his memory:
Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (M.A.D.D.)
10440 Shaker Drive
Columbia, MD 21046
1200 29th St. NW
Washington, DC 20007
Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.)
P.O. Box 3199
Camdenton, MO 65020