Md. lawmakers call to change drunken driving laws in wake of officer’s death

WASHINGTON — A Maryland state senator says an angry police chief’s words over the death of one of his officers are a “wake up call” for lawmakers.

Maryland State Sen. Brian Feldman says residents can expect lawmakers to return to Annapolis to make some changes to drunken driving laws after the death of Montgomery County police officer Noah Leotta.

The 24-year-old officer died last week after he was hit by a car during a traffic stop on Rockville Pike. Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger said the driver who hit Leotta had smoked marijuana and been drinking for hours before the crash.

“There’s going to be a lot of discussion on a lot of topics related to drunk driving,” said Feldman.

Last week, Manger said the driver who hit Leotta had been arrested two other times for drunken driving and he pleaded for change in state laws.

“The state of Maryland has some of the weakest penalties for drunken drivers and in fact, as we look ahead to the prosecution of this case, I can tell you that whenever it’s done, there’s little chance of real justice being done,” Manger said.

Sen. Jamie Raskin says he is hoping to change the laws regarding the use of interlock devices: right now, they’re required in cases involving repeat drunken drivers, or those who register .12 or above. Under Maryland law, a driver is considered drunk at .08.

“What we need to do is expand that to all drunken drivers — anybody who’s at .08 or above,” said Raskin.

Feldman says he’d like to see changes to laws applying to adults who allow underage drinking in their homes.

“For example, in Montgomery County, we had a couple of tragic events involving high school kids where the parents were hosting parties — that was actually in my legislative district,” Feldman says.

Feldman is referring to the case where students from Wooton High school were killed in June. The driver of the car, 19-year-old Samuel Ellis has been charged in the case.

Police say Ellis was drunk at the time of the crash. Wooton High graduates Alex Murk and Calvin Li, both 18, died in the collision. Police say the students had attended an underage drinking party at the North Potomac home of Kenneth Saltzman.

Saltzman paid $5,000 in fines for furnishing alcohol to minors at his home in June. The two citations of $2,500 a piece are the maximum penalty for the offense under Maryland law.

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