Montgomery County Police Officer Noah Leotta, who died Dec. 10 from injuries sustained when struck by a suspected drunk driver during a traffic stop in the police department’s drunk-driving enforcement program, was remembered Tuesday as a courageous officer, an intense golfer, and an avid fan of the Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland Terps.
During the packed funeral service, Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger described the 24-year-old officer as “smart, honest, courageous, caring [with a] tremendous work ethic and a desire to help others.”
The 90-minute service was held at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg. The location was chosen because it seats 3,000 people.
Ted Goldman described his nephew as “shy, sensitive, humble, non-confrontational, sometimes a bit insecure, not a tough guy. But he was a gentle soul.”
Rabbi James Kahn of Jewish Social Service Agency said Leotta “was mature beyond his years with a heart of gold. He was what you call in Yiddish, a mensch, a good man.”
An American flag draped Leotta’s casket and a huge photo of the young man was projected on the pulpit. Rabbi Steven Suson of Congregation Har Tzeon Agudath Achim presided over the ceremony, which was attended by thousands of police and emergency workers from around the region.
Leotta grew up in a close-knit family, which continued to have Sunday night dinners together even after Leotta moved out of the house. He was very close to his older sister, Shana Leotta, who is a kindergarten teacher. The extended family annually vacationed at Bethany Beach, Del.
Manger, Leotta’s police mentor Officer John Romack and Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett spoke of how the young man’s legacy should shine a light on drunk driving.
According to police, Leotta was part of the department’s Holiday Alcohol Task Force when he was conducting a traffic stop Dec. 3 on Rockville Pike. Police said he was struck by a 2012 Honda CRV driven by Luis Gustavo Reluzco, 47, of Olney. Reluzco was taken into custody for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs. No charges were filed by press time Tuesday.
Leotta suffered a serious head injury. He was transported to Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, where he remained in a coma. With no improvement after a week, the family decided to take Leotta off life support.
Leotta graduated from Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring and attended Montgomery College. He interned with the MCPD from December 2011 to January 2013, and during that time shadowed Romack, who focused on enforcement of impaired-driving laws.
Leotta graduated from the MCPD officer academy in July 2013 and was assigned to the 4th District.
According to a police statement, Leotta’s supervisor wrote in a recent performance evaluation that Leotta “arrives at work early every day with a smile on his face as though he can’t wait to start the day. His enthusiasm for the job is unwavering and infectious.”
Outside the 4th District Police Station in Wheaton, the building’s sign and a squad car remain draped in black cloth.
Last Thursday, Manger railed against what he termed weak penalties for drunk drivers.
“I can tell you that the fact that Noah was trying to prevent 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,” Manger said. He said that Reluzco had been arrested twice previously on suspicion of driving under the influence.
Leotta is survived by his parents, Marcia Goldman and Richard Leotta, and sister Shana Leotta. He is the grandson of Sylvia and the late Ben Goldman and Benedict and Elza Leotta.
The family received relatives, friends, law enforcement and community members on Monday at the Covenant Life Church.
Funeral arrangements were made through Torchinsky Hebrew Funeral Home, Inc. Leotta was buried at Judean Memorial Gardens in Olney on Tuesday afternoon.
Contributions can be made to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 10440 Sahker Dr., #207, Columbia, MD (madd.org); HEROES, Inc., 1200 29th St. NW, Washington, D.C. (heroes.org); or Concerns of Police Survivors, P.O. Box 3199, Camdenton, MO (nationalcops.org).