This week the Montgomery County police buried one of their own.
Noah Leotta, 24, described by Police Chief Tom Manger as “one of the best. The kind of young officer our community can be proud of,” died after an alleged drunk driver struck him while Leotta worked the Holiday Task Force – trying to cut down on drunk drivers.
Wednesday morning The Committee for Montgomery sponsored its 2015 annual legislative breakfast and incoming County Council President Nancy Floreen asked for the 800 or so attendees to stand and observe a moment of silence in the slain officer’s memory. Then she and other office holders proceeded to talk about revenue projections, the county’s monopoly on liquor sales and a lot of other things of apparent interest to the residents of Montgomery County.
Only when freshman delegate Shane Robinson – who represents Montgomery Village and Germantown – got up to speak did anyone revisit the issue of drunk drivers.
Based on the recent death Robinson said the legislature will meet and pass stricter legislation to address the problem of people dying at the hands of those who drive while under the influence.
It is legislation needed and something of which The Sentinel has supported for many years.
We remain skeptical that anything of substance will be passed in the legislature because of competing and perhaps conflicting issues facing some of the members of the House of Delegates. But we still have hope.
Friday night at The Sentinel’s “Excellence in Government” awards, we again called for stricter laws for those who are guilty of a D.U.I violation and take a life in the process.
It has been this newspapers contention for many years that one of the most dangerous problems with state legislation regarding those who drive under the influence of alcohol or narcotics is the lightness of sentencing which occurs when someone dies as the result of negligence on the part of a drunk driver.
We shall not attempt to be sanctimonious nor pretend to conduct this issue in a vacuum. Many of us, at one time or another has mistakenly gotten behind the wheel of a car when we should not do so.
Everyone is deserving of a second chance and it is a precarious issue to consider. But, for the repeat offender there needs to be a harsh sentence – which includes substantial mandatory jail time, drug abuse and alcohol counseling while in jail and after release.
There is no cogent argument against getting tougher on repeat D.U.I offenders – particularly when a life is taken.
We aren’t talking about the occasional drinker. One strike will usually straighten up the social drinker who makes a bad choice.
But those who continue to drink or use drugs and drive despite more than one D.U.I conviction – and kill someone in the process – need to be removed from the roads and for an extended length from the public in general – in fact for far more than the current law allows – which appears to be in the neighborhood of just three years. Safety and sanity demand it.
At the very least, if the facts show it, then the man charged with striking officer Leotta should face vehicular manslaughter charges – which bring with it the possibility of a decade behind bars.
Take the case of Esai Lopez. In 2007, 17-year-old Lopez walked across the street with his skateboard in Derwood when a man driving a car struck him and killed him. The driver fled the scene and turned himself in days later. Though witnesses later offered testimony about the man imbibing alcohol just prior to the crash, the driver escaped with less than a week in jail.
That same year Michael Vick faced a 23 month term in jail for killing a dog. Apparently a dog’s life is worth more than 17-year-old boy in Montgomery County.
Since that time The Sentinel has called for harsher sentences for those convicted of killing others while under the influence.
Now we are talking about a police officer who died in a preventable incident which not only highlights our point regarding those who drive under the influence, but speaks directly to the benefit police officers provide the county.
Much has been said of late regarding the status of police throughout the country. But what can you say about a police officer struck and killed at a traffic stop? There is little The Sentinel can say that would ease the pain Leotta’s family is now feeling.
But every member of the legislature and every politician who claims they care about their constituents should re-double their efforts to make sure officer Leotta did not die in vain.
That would be the living legacy of the sacrifice the young man made and the best we can hope to achieve as a community due to this tragedy.