After the death of one of his officers in a car crash, Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger wants tougher laws for those who drive while impaired.
MCP Officer Noah Leotta was participating in a task force aimed at getting impaired drivers off the road on Dec. 3. While walking back to his police cruiser after pulling over another vehicle, he was allegedly struck by an SUV driven by Luis Gustavo Reluzco. Leotta, a nearly three-year veteran of the department, died from his injuries a week later. He was 24 years old.
Reluzco was indicted by a Montgomery County Grand Jury in mid-February where “information was presented to the grand jury that Mr. Reluzco admitted to drinking for three hours in a bar consuming beers as well as shots of bourbon,” Manager said during a press conference. “When his blood was tested after the crash, he had a .22 blood alcohol level as well as a presence of a central nervous system depressant in his blood—one that should not be taken with alcohol.”
Reluzco’s blood alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit of .08.
The 47-year-old Olney resident was indicted on two charges: manslaughter by motor vehicle and failure to avoid an emergency vehicle.
“The maximum prison sentence in this case for the two charges is 10 years,” said Montgomery County State’s Attorney John J. McCarthy. The failure to avoid charge also comes with a $500 fine.
“Investigators determined (Reluzco) had been arrested at least three previous times for alcohol-related offenses,” Manager said. “I believe this is a case of an individual who displayed an absolute indifference for the lives and safety of drivers on the road, and the fact is that there are many other people in this county and in this state that think nothing about taking drugs, drinking alcohol and getting behind the wheel of a car. It’s time for the people of this state to say ‘Enough is enough.’”
Calling the state’s penalties for drunk driving “disgraceful,” Manger said it is time for the Maryland General Assembly to make tougher laws. “In Montgomery County last year, nine people were killed because of a drunk driver,” he said. “One of them was Noah Leotta, but all nine of them left devastated families and a grieving community. These deaths are preventable and they have to stop. It’s time for the state of Maryland to take drunk driving seriously.”
Manger is supporting legislation recently introduced by state Sen. Jamie Raskin and Del. Ben Kramer known as Noah’s Law, which requires mandatory interlock devices to be used by all drivers convicted of drunk driving.
Currently, only those convicted of driving under the influence with a blood alcohol level of .15 or more and/or repeat offenders must use the devices.
“That is the best solution we have so far to keep someone who is impaired from endangering others on our highways,” Manger said. “You can suspend somebody’s license but they will drive anyway. You can try to deter drunk drivers with the threat of getting caught, but research tells us that a person will likely drive 80 times before they are caught driving drunk. An interlock device will save lives by not allowing someone who is impaired to start their car in the first place. This keeps drunks off the road. If Mr. Reluzco had had to use an ignition interlock device, Noah would be alive today.”
Reluzco’s bail was set at 250,000 and a trial is scheduled to begin May 31.
Manger is also in favor of several other pieces of legislation aimed at increasing the penalties for those convicted of manslaughter by a motor vehicle, homicide by a motor vehicle while DUI, and adults hosting underage drinking parties. On Feb. 24, Manger testified before the Maryland General Assembly to advocate on behalf of Noah’s Law and to push for stricter penalties for drunk drivers.
“We will continue to fight for justice in Annapolis and on the streets of Montgomery County for every single victim of a drunk driver,” Manger said.