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20 Jul 2016

Maryland man pleads guilty in drunk-driving death of Officer Noah Leotta

A Maryland man pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter Wednesday for the drunken-driving death of Montgomery County police officer Noah Leotta, a tragedy that spurred a new state law designed to curb drinking and driving.

Luis Reluzco, 47, of Olney, demonstrated little emotion during a 30-minute court hearing in Rockville. He faces a term of up to 10 years in prison at his scheduled sentencing Aug 23.

Because vehicular manslaughter is considered a “nonviolent” offense under Maryland sentencing rules, Reluzco would be eligible for parole consideration after completing 25 percent of his term.

The hearing Wednesday revealed new details about the case, including Reluzco’s rapid consumption of beer and whiskey at a Hooters restaurant in the hours before the Dec. 3 crash; an account from a new witness who said he saw Reluzco’s Honda CR-V strike Leotta’s police car and then, Leotta, just before 10 p.m.; and Reluzco’s statements that he didn’t know he had hit anyone.

Leotta — a well-liked, 24-year-old officer — had pulled over a different vehicle on Rockville Pike as part of a holiday DUI enforcement effort and was out of his car.

The witness “described seeing the defendant’s SUV approach the back of the police car and thinking that the SUV was too close,” prosecutor Bryan Roslund said in court. “It appeared to him that the SUV tried to go around at the last second, but had waited too long to move over.

[The witness] saw the sparks and smoke.”

Moments after the crash, Reluzco was still behind the wheel when a police officer responding to the scene came up to him.

Roslund said Reluzco told that officer: “ ‘Sorry I didn’t even see you,’ ” adding that Reluzco thought he had merely hit a car. “He was not aware that he had hit a person,” Roslund said at the hearing.

In the courtroom were Leotta’s parents, Rich and Marcia Leotta, also of Olney.

“I want to hear him say: ‘Yes, I am guilty for the crime that I committed,’ ” the officer’s father said Wednesday before going to court.

The hearing was part of an emotional month for Leotta’s parents, who attended memorial services for their son as part of National Police Week. “It was the right thing to do, but it breaks your heart every time,” Rich Leotta said.

He has spent a lot of time recalling a conversation he had with Noah a year ago. It came as he and Noah were walking their dogs. Noah told his dad he’d gone to the annual candlelight vigil in downtown Washington at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, which honors fallen officers.

“ ‘It’s such an honor to have your name on that wall,’ ” he recalled his son saying.

“Noah, it is an honor,” Rich Leotta had replied. “But that’s not a good thing. I wouldn’t want that for you.”

Read more about it here: http://wapo.st/2abihcv

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