GAITHERSBURG, Md. — Mourners gathered Tuesday for the funeral of a Maryland police officer who died after being hit by car driven by a suspected drunken driver.
The funeral for 24-year-old Officer Noah Leotta was held Tuesday morning at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, followed by burial at Judean Memorial Gardens in Olney. The church — which holds 2,500 — was packed.
Leotta died last Thursday, one week after being hit by an SUV while conducting a traffic stop as part of a drunken-driving task force.
Dozens of police officers from across the region lined up, forming an honor guard outside the church. The motorcade was so large, it took nearly 20 minutes for the parking lot to empty.
Leotta was remembered as a humble man who didn’t seek attention, a “mensch,” a young man “with a million dollar smile and baby blue eyes” whose personality won over everyone with whom he came in contact.
At his funeral, family members recalled that as a small child, Leotta’s father tucked him into bed wishing him “sogni d’oro,” which means “golden dreams.”
Officer John Romack, who supervised Leotta for 14 months, said the young officer in training treated everyone with respect.
Referring to the suspected drunk driver who hit Leotta, Romack said, “Noah would not want us to hate that man — you might despise the action, but he would not want us to hate.”
Romack got a laugh when he talked about the day he was introduced to Leotta and wondered if the young man’s last name was Italian. When Leotta explained his dad was Italian and his mom was Jewish, Romack told him, “From now on, your street name is Pizza Bagel” — a name that the young man good-naturedly adopted.
Chief Tom Manger, who railed against Maryland’s drunk driving laws as being “some of the weakest in the country,” said he’s been told that some Annapolis legislators have pledged to work for change in that area.
Manger gave Leotta the posthumous honor of being named Police Officer III and urged the funeral attendees to take up a red ribbon for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Manger also added a lighter moment. He said he went through 411 pages of evaluations for Officer Leotta, wondering if just one of them might be less than perfect. Then he found it: when called to deal with a man who was sitting outside, naked from the waist down, Leotta wasn’t quite sure what to do. The man was reading a children’s book and wasn’t responsive to Leotta’s questions.
Finally, he asked neighbors if they knew the man, found he lived in a group home, and left — without his pants. While the man continued to sit outside reading, Leotta was eventually able to sort out the situation.
When asked in an after-action report what he might have done differently, Leotta said, “Well, I could have addressed the no-pants issue a little faster.”
Leotta’s older sister Shana, a kindergarten teacher, shared memories of how her little brother was her friend, and even when they had their differences, they were intensely close.
Listening to everyone talk about how brave and competent an officer he was, she mentioned he did have one fear: bugs freaked him out. But she said, he was “loved by everyone he met” she’ll “miss and forever love him.”
The case is still under investigation and the driver has not yet been charged.
But Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger has said the driver had been arrested twice before for driving under the influence.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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