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Driver Had .22 BAC When He Hit Officer, Police Say

The officer was stopping a suspected drunk driver and was outside his cruiser when Reluzco struck him, police said

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    Driver Had .22 BAC When He Hit MD Officer: Police

    New4's Chris Gordon has reaction from the family of Officer Noah Leotta during a traffic stop last December when another vehicle struck him. Police say the driver of that car had a blood alcohol level almost three times the legal limit. (Published Friday, Feb. 12, 2016)

    A Maryland man had a blood alcohol content of .22 -- almost three times the legal limit -- when he fatally struck a Montgomery County police officer, police said Friday.

    On Thursday, 48-year-old Luis Gustavo Reluzco, of Olney, was indicted by a grand jury on charges of manslaughter by automobile, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years, and failing to move over for an emergency vehicle, a $500 fine. A circuit court judge set bond at $250,000 Friday.

    “He’s not somebody who cared about anybody else on the road,” Rich Leotta, Officer Noah Leotta's father, said in furious remarks he delivered after Reluzco's bond hearing. "All he cared about was having drinks and getting drunk. He didn’t care about any human life that was on the road. All he wanted to do was get his high or whatever he was doing. And we know that he has done this before in the past.”

    Any charges relating to driving under the influence are covered by the manslaughter charge, State's Attorney John McCarthy said. 

    “The charge manslaughter is based on grossly negligent conduct as defined by law,” he said.

    The use of substances is part of that negligent conduct, he said.

    Rich Leotta called the liquor lobby accomplices in his son's death, along with Maryland state legislators, for blocking the passage of a bill that would require drivers convicted of driving under the influence to use interlock devices, which require drivers to blow into a device to get a blood alcohol content reading before their vehicles will start. Named for Leotta, “Noah’s Law” calls for mandatory interlock devices for all drivers convicted of driving under the influence. Right now, only people convicted of driving with a particularly high blood alcohol content and repeat offenders have to use the lock.

    “Zero point eight is the limit in Maryland,” Rich Leotta said, visibly angry. “It’s not 0.15; it’s not 0.09. That’s when the interlock device needs to be implemented. One sip over or I don’t care if it’s one drop over. You’re over the limit, you’re drunk. You don’t drive drunk. That puts everybody at risk. My son is dead because of that. That’s the liquor lobby. They don’t care about the people. They just care about selling their damn alcohol.”

    Luis Gustavo Reluzco

    Noah Leotta, 24, was critically injured the evening of Dec. 3, 2015, after he had volunteered to work on a special holiday alcohol-enforcement patrol. He had stopping a suspected drunken driver at Rockville Pike and Edmonston Drive in Rockville, Maryland, and was outside his cruiser when Reluzco smashed into the police car and then struck him, police said.

    “My hero son was out there trying to stop drunk drivers,” Rich Leotta said.

    Leotta, who would have been with the Montgomery County police department three years in January, was rushed to a hospital with significant trauma. He died Dec. 10, 2015.

    Reluzco admitted drinking beer and bourbon for about three hours Dec. 3, police said. There was also the presence in his blood of a depressant that should not be taken with alcohol. He had at least three previous alcohol-related arrests, police said.

    “I believe this is an individual who displayed an absolute indifference for lives and safety of drivers on the road,” Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger said after Friday's bond hearing.

    Reluzco turned himself in to the county sheriff about 1 p.m. Thursday. 

    “My client is destroyed by what occurred on the night of Dec. 3,” said Reluzco’s attorney, John Roth. “He makes absolutely no excuse for his actions on that night.”

    Manger issued a statement after the indictment was announced that reiterated his call for stronger penalties for drunk and impaired driving, especially for repeat offenders.

    “I believe these changes are important and will make travel safer for everyone on Maryland roadways; these changes will save lives," Manger said in the statement, encouraging Maryland residents to tell lawmakers they support "Noah's Law" and two other laws to stiffen drunken-driving penalties.

    Another of the laws would increase penalties for anyone convicted of driving while impaired and causing the death of another person; Manger says Maryland has one of the lowest penalties in the nation.

    A third law would increase penalties for adults who provide alcohol to underage drinkers.

    “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,” Manger said. “It’s time for the people of this state to say enough is enough. When a repeat drunk driver continues to get behind the wheel of a car with an absolute callous indifference for other people’s lives, and even when someone is driving drunk and kills someone else, the penalties in this state are disgraceful.”