Following the death of Officer Noah Leotta at the hands of a suspected drunken driver, the Montgomery County Police Department and his family have joined the chorus calling for a crackdown on driving under the influence.
According to Capt. Tom Didone of the Montgomery County Police Department, the first bill would increase the penalties for anyone convicted of manslaughter by a motor vehicle or by gross negligent driving.
The maximum sentence for this crime would go from 10 years to 15.
The bill would also increase the penalty for homicide while operating a car while under the influence. The penalty would increase from five years to 15 years.
“So if you’re drunk or drive grossly negligent, you face the exposure of up to 15 years,” Didone said.
The second bill, known as Noah’s Law, would require all drivers who have been convicted of drunken driving to have a mandatory interlocking device in their cars.
The device would require the driver to breathe into the device to detect any alcohol. If the device detects the alcohol, the car will not turn on, according to Didone.
Didone said the there would be a monthly fee between $60 and $80. The installation fee for the device may vary among providers.
Didone also said it was Del. Benjamin Kramer (D-19) who introduced this bill to legislature.
“They’ve been trying to get this bill passed since 2009. However, Noah’s death has shown that the number of drunk drivers on the highway exceed the police department’s ability to keep the roadway safe,” Didone said.
Police Chief Tom Manger said in a news conference last week that Maryland’s laws against drinking and driving are the weakest in the nation.
“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,” Manger said
Manger also said 130 people died because of a drunk driver in 2014, and last year in Montgomery County nine people died because of a drunken driver, one of whom was Leotta.
“These deaths are preventable, and they have to stop. It’s time for the state of Maryland to take drunk driving seriously,” Manger said.
Didone said the penalties for drunken drivers are the third-lowest penalties in the nation, according to the Mothers Against Drunk Driving website.
Didone also said the current law requires repeat offenders or people who have driven with a blood alcohol content of .15 or more to have the interlocking device in their cars.
Leotta’s father, Richard Leotta, pointed out in a news conference that the liquor lobby said the bill may come down too hard on those who have had “one sip over the legal limit.”
“What is the legal limit in Maryland? It’s .08. It’s not ‘Ok, if you’re .08 and maybe a little bit you’re not (drunk).’ It’s either you’re drunk or you’re not drunk. I don’t care if it’s one drop over. You’re over the limit; you’re drunk,” said Leotta.
Leotta called out Del. Joseph F. Vallario (D-23), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, for blocking the bill.
Leotta said it is “conflict of interests” blocking these bills, given that Vallario defends drunken drivers.
“It’s a pocketbook issue. That’s how it is; that’s what the problem is,” Leotta said. “It’s a pocketbook issue. That’s not democracy anymore.”
Leotta also called on Speaker of the House Mike Busch and President of the Senate Mike Miller to “do what’s right for the people of Maryland.”
Officer Leotta’s mother, Marcia Goldman, said they will continue to fight and go to Annapolis until this bill is passed.
“We are both retired, angry parents. We have plenty of family and friends, and they are all supporting us,” Goldman said.