State Legislators Introduce ‘Noah’s Law’ to Strengthen Ignition Interlock Requirements for Drunken Driving

State Legislators Introduce ‘Noah’s Law’ to Strengthen Ignition Interlock Requirements for Drunken Driving

Legislation comes after Montgomery County police Officer Noah Leotta died after being hit by an alleged drunken driver on Rockville Pike

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Noah Leotta

Montgomery County police

The parents of Montgomery County police Officer Noah Leotta, who died after being struck by a suspected drunken driver in December, appeared at a press conference Wednesday to introduce a proposed law that would require all drunken driving offenders to blow into a breathalyzer before being able to start their vehicles.

The legislation, known as Noah’s Law, comes after Leotta was struck and critically injured Dec. 3 by a vehicle driven by a suspected drunken driver during a traffic stop on Rockville Pike in Rockville. The 24-year-old Montgomery County native was taken off life support a week later.

“He told me he could not have seen himself doing anything else than being a police officer,” said Leotta’s dad, Richard Leotta, who became emotional as he spoke in Annapolis about his son and in favor of the bill.

The man who police said struck Leotta with his vehicle, 47-year-old Olney resident Luis Gustavo Reluzco, has not been charged in the incident. Traffic investigations in the county routinely take months before charges are filed.

In a police report on the incident, officers said Reluzco admitted to being drunk and that he had been drinking at the Hooters restaurant on Rockville Pike, not far from where police say he hit Leotta.

In Maryland, repeat DUI offenders or offenders who registered blood-alcohol levels of 0.15 percent or higher must use an ignition interlock device, which prevents a driver from starting his or her vehicle if a breathalyzer result registers a higher blood-alcohol level than would be specified in the bill.

But first-time offenders with blood-alcohol level levels from 0.08 percent to 0.14 percent aren’t required to use the device unless a judge orders them to do so.

The new legislation, to be introduced by District 20 state Sen. Jamie Raskin and District 19 Del. Ben Kramer, would require all first-time DUI offenders to use the ignition interlock device before driving.

“When I got to spend a little time with the Leotta family, with Leotta’s sister, I began to think about whether losing a family member in the state of Maryland is a misfortune or an injustice,” Raskin said Wednesday. “At this point in history my friends, it is also a terrible injustice for somebody to lose their life at the hands of a drunk driver. We cannot put up with it any longer.”

MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) released a report Wednesday dedicated to Leotta that said ignition interlock technology has stopped 1.7 million drunken drivers across the country. Twenty-five states have already enacted legislation that requires all DUI offenders to use the device, according to MADD.

Proponents say that in Maryland, previous attempts to enact similar legislation have been stalled in part by Joe Vallario, a delegate from Prince George’s County and the chairman of the House’s Judiciary Committee. Vallario has faced questions about whether his son’s law firm, known to represent drivers accused of traffic-related crimes, poses a conflict of interest when it comes to his judgment of harsher drunken driving laws.

On Wednesday, Richard Leotta said his son had complained about Maryland’s weak drunken driving laws about a week before he was struck by Reluzco.

Montgomery County police Chief Thomas Manger, who railed against what he claimed were the state’s weak drunken driving laws in December after Leotta’s death, applauded Richard and his wife, Marcia, “for their willingness to stand up in the midst of their grief to help save lives in the state of Maryland and help save lives all over this country.”

He said statistics in states that require ignition interlocks for all drunken driving offenders show repeat offenses have fallen by as much as 60 percent.

“Noah was just one of the greatest young men. He had the perfect temperament, the perfect personality, every trait you would want a police officer to have and that is due to the upbringing he had from Rich and Marcia,” Manger said Wednesday. “His selfless professionalism is something we should all aspire to do no matter what we do.”

Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn also spoke at the press conference in favor of increasing penalties for drunken drivers.

“We can be a national leader and it’s going to happen through more and more multi-faceted solutions to a multi-faceted problem,” Rahn said. “Drunk driving will not go away. Drunk driving has to be stopped. We need technologies to do that, we need laws to do that and we need family members to know they need to stop their family members who choose to drink and drive.”

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