Calls for tougher DUI laws in Maryland after officer’s death

WASHINGTON — Out of a tragedy has a come a renewed call for tougher drunk driving laws in the state of Maryland.

This week, 24-year-old Officer Noah Leotta died after he was struck by a suspected drunk driver at a sobriety checkpoint. The officer’s death sparked comments critical of the state’s DUI laws from Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger who says the state has the weakest penalties for the offense.

“It’s clear that his patience has worn thin on the issue of drunk driving but I venture to say that his frustration is probably reflective of many in law enforcement,” says Kurt Erickson with Washington Regional Alcohol Program.

Erickson says Montgomery County is one of the hardest working jurisdictions, when it comes to catching drunk drivers. He says the county made 4,000 DUI arrests last year, averaging one arrest every two hours.

“The majority of DUI first time offenders get this slap on the wrist, rather than the penalties that Maryland has on the books. Unfortunately it’s not working,” Erickson says.

That slap on the wrist which Erickson said needs to go away, is giving first-time offenders probation if they are caught driving drunk. He would also like to see tougher laws for repeat offenders.

Montgomery County police said that the driver who hit Leotta was driving drunk and had two other DUI arrests on his record.

Erickson says Maryland is also behind the times when it comes to embracing technology that can help prevent drunk driving.

Unlike other states in the region, such as Virginia, West Virginia and Delaware, Maryland doesn’t require all people convicted of driving drunk to have an ignition interlock system in their vehicle. Erickson said the in-car breathalyzer, which prevents a drunk driver from starting the vehicle, should go inside every the car of every offender.

“Every drunk driving fatality, drunk driving injury, drunk driving crash, drunk driving arrest is 100-percent preventable,” Erickson says.

The Montgomery County Police have announced the funeral arrangement for Officer Leotta on Monday, and can be seen here.

Ivy Lyons

Ivy Lyons is a digital journalist for WTOP.com. Since 2018, they have worked on Capitol Hill, at NBC News in Washington, and with WJLA in Washington.

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