MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (FOX 5 DC / AP) - A Maryland police officer who was struck by a driver suspected of driving under the influence has died of his injuries, Montgomery County police said.
Police say Noah Leotta, who was working on the department's Holiday Alcohol Task Force, was conducting a traffic stop on December 3 when the driver of another car -- a 2012 Honda CRV -- struck his police cruiser and then him.
Police say the driver, identified as 47-year-old Luis Gustavo Reluzco of Olney, remained on the scene and was taken into custody because he was suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Police say results of a blood test and charges are pending as the investigation continues.
Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger was very emotional when speaking about the accident Thursday, telling reporters the driver who hit Leotta had been arrested for DWI twice before. He said police believe the driver was drinking and smoking marijuana in the hours before he struck Leotta.
"It was a preventable, unnecessary loss,” said Chief Manger. “This hardworking, caring, dedicated police officer was killed by a drunk driver. He was killed by a man arrested twice before for drunk driving.”
Leotta, 24, grew up in Montgomery County, was a Sherwood High School graduate, and attended Montgomery College. He interned with the department starting in 2011 and graduated from the academy in 2013.
“Noah loved his job and demonstrated a level of enthusiasm that drove a work ethic and professionalism that we can all aspire to. These qualities made him the man and the police officer that he was,” said Chief Manger.
Hundreds of people, including many of Officer Leotta's colleagues, lined the road in front of the 4th District Station on Thursday afternoon to pay their respects to Leotta as his body passed in a police procession. Leotta's father, mother and sister then got out where they were embraced by Chief Manger and other members of the department.
"The residents of this county lost a great cop,” Manger said. “Exactly the kind of police officer that you want patrolling your streets.”
Manger said the 24-year-old showed an unbelievable dedication to public service and in keeping his community safe. Officer Leotta was passionate about getting drunk drivers off the road and had volunteered to work on the Holiday Alcohol Task Force. It is an irony that had the chief beside himself.
"The fact that Noah was out trying to prevent that crime, that crime that ended up killing him, I hope that shines a light on this case and shines a light on the fact that the state of Maryland has some of the weakest penalties for drunk drivers,” he said. “And in fact, as we look ahead to the prosecution of this case, I can tell you that whenever it’s done, there is little chance of real justice being done.”
Anyone wishing to send condolences to Leotta's family can email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
People may deliver or mail cards/messages to:
The Leotta Family
Montgomery County Police Department – 4th District
2300 Randolph Road
Wheaton, Maryland 20902
Anyone wishing to make donations:
Noah’s family has requested that anyone wishing to make donations in memory of Officer Noah Leotta make them to the following organizations:
Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (M.A.D.D.)
10440 Shaker Drive
Columbia, MD 21046
1200 29th Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20007
Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.)
P.O. Box 3199
Camdenton, MO 65020