The father of a Montgomery County police officer who prosecutors say was killed by a drunken driver in December made a passionate plea to state legislators Friday afternoon to toughen drunken driving laws.
Richard Leotta said he went to Noah’s grave Friday morning.
“That’s how I have to talk to my son,” Leotta said. “My wonderful son who was only 24 years old. I have to go to a cemetery to talk to him.”
Richard Leotta spoke at a press conference at Montgomery County Circuit Court following the bond hearing for Luis Gustavo Reluzco, the 47-year-old Olney man accused of striking and fatally injuring Officer Noah Leotta on Dec. 3 on Rockville Pike. Prosecutors say that Reluzco was drunk at the time of the accident and had two prior alcohol-related driving arrests as well as a suspended license due to an alcohol-related offense.
Leotta noted that Reluzco’s attorney has said Reluzco is sympathetic and sorry for what happened, but Leotta said that’s not enough.
“He’s not someone who cared about anyone else on the road,” Leotta said. “All he cared about was drinks and getting drunk. We know he has done this before in the past and he didn’t learn from those past transgressions, he just did it again… I don’t know how that’s somebody who is sympathetic. He didn’t want to take a breathalyzer; he didn’t want to take a sobriety test on the side of the road. He hasn’t reached out to my family in any way shape or form to say he’s sorry for destroying our lives. This is not a person who is sympathetic.”
Leotta, who was flanked by Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy and county police Chief Tom Manger, also criticized what he described as weak penalties for drunken drivers in Maryland.
“The most this person can get is 10 years for killing my son—for being reckless and irresponsible,” he said.
Leotta also called out state Del. Joseph Vallario (D-Prince George's County), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who Leotta said has blocked “common sense legislation” to toughen drunken driving laws.
Leotta, Manger and local state legislators are pursuing “Noah’s Law” to require repeat offenders to have an ignition interlock system in their vehicles. The system would require drivers to blow into a breathalyzer in order to start their vehicles. Leotta said Vallario’s occupation as a defense attorney, in which he defends individuals charged with drunken driving offenses, is a conflict of interest.
A message left with Vallario’s office in Annapolis Friday afternoon was not immediately returned.
Leotta also called out the liquor lobby in Annapolis, which he said “just care about selling their damn alcohol.”
After giving a lengthy, off-the-cuff speech, Leotta was asked about the badge he was wearing around his neck. He said both he and his wife wear one of Noah Leotta’s two Montgomery County police badges.
“We wear these all the time,” he said. “It makes us feel closer to him. He was proud of the badge and he was proud to be a police officer. They protect and serve us every day and every day they’re at risk to keep us safe. That’s what my son loved to do and that was his passion.”
A full video of the press conference is below:
— Montgomery Co Police (@mcpnews) February 12, 2016