WASHINGTON — The man charged with vehicular manslaughter in the death of Montgomery County Police Officer Noah Leotta entered a guilty plea in court Wednesday.
Luis Gustavo Reluzco’s plea was not unexpected as paperwork was filed with the court last week. In entering a guilty plea, Reluzco all but gives up his right to appeal and forgoes a trial.
“Not having to go to trial alleviates some of that pain and suffering going through all the details but the pain and suffering of losing our son doesn’t change,” said Leotta’s father Rich Leotta following the hearing.
Sitting in a green prison jumpsuit with his family behind him, Reluzco told Judge Ann Harrington he is guilty of hitting and killing Officer Leotta on Dec. 3, 2015.
“He’s had problems handling what he has done. He fully knows the gravamen of his actions,” said defense attorney John Roth.
Prosecutors read from a proffer of proof supporting his guilty plea that laid out the facts of the case against Reluzco outlining his choice to drink and drive.
After having shots and drinks, Reluzco left Hooters restaurant in Rockville, Maryland with a blood alcohol concentration later tested at nearly three times the legal limit and had drugs in his system, prosecutors said.
Down the road, Leotta was on patrol and had pulled over another driver he suspected of drunken driving, prosecutors said.
Although prosecutors say the red and blue lights of Leotta’s patrol car were visible from the restaurant parking lot, Reluzco failed to move out of the lane where Leotta was parked and standing outside his car. Reluzco struck Leotta’s car, sideswiping the length of it. The impact threw the officer into the car door, into Reluzco’s windshield and 27 feet past the accident scene.
Prosecutors told the court Reluzco said he didn’t realize he hit a person.
The case drew national attention and emboldened local leaders to push for stricter drunken driving laws in Maryland. Noah’s Law is expected to be signed Thursday in Annapolis.
Reluzco’s guilty plea was accepted Wednesday and a sentencing was scheduled for Aug. 23. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for vehicular manslaughter.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Reluzco was not charged with drunk driving.