GAITHERSBURG – “The residents of this County lost a great cop,” said Montgomery County police Chief Tom Manger on Dec. 10.
A funeral Tuesday drew fellow officers from as far away as Delaware after Noah Leotta, 24, died of his injuries in Suburban Hospital on Dec.10 after being struck by a vehicle Dec. 3.
Leotta was a part of the Holiday Alcohol Task Force, a team made up of police officers who actively look for drunk drivers.
He was conducting a routine traffic stop on the intersection of Rockville Pike and Edmonston Drive when police say Olney resident Luis Gustavo Reluzco, 47, struck and critically injured him.
Police took Reluzco into custody on suspicion of drunken driving charges.
As of Dec.16, charges have not been filed against Reluzco because the department is waiting for the blood results, said Natasha Plotnikov, spokesperson for the department.
Leotta began his career with the Montgomery County Police Department when he interned under 1st District officer John Romack.
Romack said when Leotta went on a ride-along with him, Leotta dedicated himself to becoming a police officer.
He said he nicknamed Leotta “Pizza Bagel” after asking about his last name.
Leotta replied his dad is Italian and his mom is Jewish.
“So, at that time I had a daughter, she always ate pizza bagels,” Romack said. “So I said, your street name will be Pizza Bagel.”
Leotta was known to be compassionate, friendly and helping, said Olney resident Christopher Mohr, 20.
“You never heard him say a bad word about anyone, except himself,” Mohr said.
He told Leotta he had to stop being so hard on himself because he had a lot to offer the world.
Mohr said he seemed to listen to his advice and relaxed a bit more.
“Whenever Noah came up, I was elated to see him,” Mohr said.
Mohr recalled one of his favorite memories of Leotta, when they stopped to talk when Leotta was chasing someone.
They were driving on opposite sides of the road, and they noticed each other, stopped and said “hi” to each other.
“He said, “I’m chasing this car right now. I’ll talk to you later,” Mohr said.
He said Leotta reached out to him later that night.
Mohr said he told Leotta when he was in critical condition that he appreciated that Leotta always went out his way to see him, give him advice and mentor him.
“I am honored to call him a friend the rest of my life,” Mohr said.
He said Leotta gave him advice on becoming a police officer.
Leotta told him to never be discouraged if a police department did not hire him and to always keep trying, Mohr said.
He said Leotta influenced him to become a police officer after Leotta told him about his experience interning under Romack, Mohr said.
Leotta’s sister and cousins spoke during Leotta’s funeral service on Dec. 15.
Shana, Leotta’s older sister called him her “brave hero.” “I will miss and forever love him,” Shana said.
Molly Goldman, Leotta’s cousin, said he was the closest thing she had to a brother and the last time she him was during Thanksgiving.
Potomac resident Arielle Larangeira said Leotta was “probably the most dedicated intern and police officer” she has known.
She said there was “something special about him” and knew that he would become an officer when they interned together.
During high school, Leotta was known to always smile and helpful, said Sandi Williams, principal of Sherwood High School.
“(He) always (had) that same smile. (I) never not saw him smile,” Williams said.
She said she could not have been “prouder” of Leotta when he joined the Young Explorers Program, a program for students who express their interest in becoming a police officer when he was a high school senior.
“He always knew he wanted to be a police officer,” said Sandy Williams, assistant principal of Sherwood High School.
Capt. Thomas Didone, with the traffic division, said he saw Leotta Thursday night before he went out on patrol.
“Noah, as was normal the case, came in very early for his shift, at least 45 minutes early,” Didone said. “He was excited to come to work.”
Didone said he told Leotta he was “very happy” that he came to work on the task force.
“He had those piercing blue eyes. He was always smiling. This was a kid that loved to come to work,” Didone said.
On Dec. 10, a tribute that included police and the County Fire and Rescue firefighters lined up along Randolph Road to show support for Leotta and his family as his body was escorted from Suburban Hospital to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Lt. Nick Augustine, with the 4th District, said the event was to say goodbye to their fellow officer.