Richard Leotta wears his son Noah’s badge
Owings, MD – Law enforcement in Calvert County started the Labor Day weekend with a well-publicized sobriety checkpoint. While the word goes out to citizens that the checkpoint will occur the location is kept a secret. Around 10 p.m. several Calvert County Sheriff’s Office deputies and a Maryland State Police trooper gathered at the Dunkirk Volunteer Fire Department for a pre-checkpoint briefing. Although sobriety checkpoints are not uncommon—they are often used during those holidays where alcohol is at the center of the celebration—the Friday evening/Saturday morning operation Sept. 2 and 3 was hardly routine.
The three-hour checkpoint on Route 260 in Owings led to the arrests of at least four motorists for being under the influence of or impaired by alcohol. The checkpoint was dedicated to the memory of Montgomery County Police Officer Noah Leotta.
Leotta, 24, was working holiday alcohol patrol on Rockville Pike Dec. 3 when a sport utility vehicle (SUV) slammed into the officer’s patrol car. Leotta was pinned against his cruiser and then thrown 30 feet into the street. On Dec. 10 Officer Leotta died from his injuries.
The SUV driver—identified as Luis G. Reluzco, 47—pleaded guilty earlier this year to negligent vehicular manslaughter and one other traffic charge. Reluzco is tentatively scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 27.
Both Officer Leotta’s father, Richard Leotta; and uncle, David Leotta, a Huntingtown resident; attended the briefing and observed the checkpoint.
Richard Leotta told The BayNet that his son “loved what he was doing. He had a passion for going after drunk drivers.” The elder Leotta recalled a conversation he had with his son prior to the patrol crash. “Noah said ‘there seems to be a problem in Maryland—the laws are too weak and the judges are too lenient.’ He wanted to do something about that problem. He wanted to save lives. This was his calling.”
During his address to the officers participating in the checkpoint, Richard Leotta, wearing his son’s badge, recalled the mournful days following Noah’s death. There was one silver lining that appeared during the family’s receiving line at Officer Leotta’s funeral service. An unidentified man approached the family. The stranger stated Officer Leotta had once arrested him for drunk driving. The experience prompted the man to change his ways, he claimed. “Noah saved my life,” the man told the officer’s father. The two men then embraced. “That was the best hug of my life,” Richard Leotta stated.
As a result of their son’s death, Richard and Marcia Leotta, both retired federal government workers, became part of a lobbying effort for stricter drunk driving laws in Maryland. Legislation known as Noah’s Law was passed—although Richard Leotta affirms it was amended in such a way that his work to toughen measures is not done yet. The measure that did pass and will become law Oct. 1 will require any driver convicted of driving under the influence to drive only a vehicle that has an ignition interlock device installed. An interlock device prevents a vehicle from starting if alcohol is detected on the driver’s breath. Additionally, Noah’s Law increases driver’s license suspensions for drunk driving.
Richard Leotta thanked the officers for their aid in persuading state legislators to pass Noah’s Law. For years advocates have worked to make a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or higher detected on a driver’s breath by law enforcement cause for requiring the installation of an interlock device.
Both Richard Leotta and his brother thanked the officers for participating in the checkpoint.
“A lot of people support the police,” David Leotta declared. “When you go out there tonight please be safe.”
“Tonight Noah is with you,” said Richard Leotta. “He’s always on patrol.”
Debbie Jennings, a Calvert County resident and the statewide Regional Traffic Safety Program (RTSP) supervisor, said funding for the sobriety checkpoints comes from federal funds allocated to the state, which in turn distributes them to the eight regional programs. The RTSP is under the authority of the Maryland Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Administration.
According to Calvert County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Division Commander Captain Todd Ireland, “412 motorists entered the sobriety checkpoint and 11 were pulled to the side for testing or for probable cause searches based on the odor of marijuana. There were 4 DUI arrests made during the checkpoint operation and 5 arrests were made for controlled dangerous substance law violations. Corporal Moschetto made an additional arrest of an impaired driver while travelling home after the checkpoint operation was completed.”
Contact Marty Madden at email@example.com