Luis Reluzco, the drunk driver who fatally struck Montgomery County police officer Noah Leotta, has agreed to plead guilty in the case, according to court records.
Reluzco, 47, could face the maximum 10 years in prison for vehicular manslaughter. Prosecutors have made no agreements to seek less prison time, according to records filed Thursday in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
“From the onset, he has admitted his guilt,” said John Roth, Reluzco’s attorney.
Roth and prosecutors drew up plea-agreement papers this week. On Thursday, a plea hearing was set for May 18, according to court records. Sentencing is expected to take place at a later date. Reluzco, an Olney resident, is likely to continue to be held in the county jail, where he has been since his arrest.
“He’s trying to do the right thing,” Roth said. “He’s never run away from accepting responsibility for his actions.”
Prosecutors declined to comment.
The death of Leotta, 24, an energetic, well-liked officer, captured national attention. The night of Dec. 3, as he was out trying to find drunk drivers as part of a holiday task force, Leotta pulled over an SUV on Rockville Pike and got out of his cruiser. At the same time, Reluzco pulled out of a Hooters restaurant one mile away, having been there for more than four hours drinking beer and whiskey, police records show. Reluzco’s blood alcohol concentration was later tested at 0.22, or nearly three times the legal limit, and he had smoked marijuana and taken the prescription drug Xanax, according to police records.
Despite seeing the flashing lights of Leotta’s police car in front of him, Reluzco didn’t veer away, rammed the rear-left corner of the police car and then struck the officer. Leotta suffered massive head injuries and died a week later.
The incident propelled Maryland lawmakers to toughen drunken-driving laws. This week they approved legislation — known as Noah’s Law — to expand the use of breath-testing ignition locks for convicted drunk drivers. Leotta’s parents and sister had appeared in Annapolis in recent months to urge passage of the law.
At this stage in a proceeding, a defendant can still back out of a plea agreement. Reluzco’s guilty plea would not be official until a judge accepts it at the hearing next month. The hearing is scheduled before Circuit Court Judge Ann S. Harrington, according to court records.
Maryland sentencing guidelines, which are not binding, suggest a term of six months to five years in the case, according to court records and Roth.
No matter what sentence Reluzco receives, he probably will not serve the full term. The charge of vehicular manslaughter is considered a “nonviolent” offense under Maryland parole rules, a category in which offenders become eligible for parole consideration after serving 25 percent of their sentence.
By agreeing to plead this week, Reluzco is doing so more than six weeks ahead of his scheduled trial. Had that trial proceeded, prosecutors probably would have displayed crash photos, spoken at length about Leotta’s injuries and asked witnesses to the crash to provide jurors with detailed accounts.
“What is the sense of putting his family through four days of excruciating agony?” Roth said.
Earlier this month, Montgomery police released a collision reconstruction report, the details of which underscored the case against Reluzco. Among the report’s findings: There were seven witnesses to the crash; Reluzco admitted to police that before the crash he smoked marijuana, took Xanax and drank at Hooters; the roadway showed no skid marks prior to impact.
Additionally, three court filings over the past two months — in which prosecutors describe the evidence they were turning over to Roth — help explain what Reluzco would have faced at a trial. The evidence includes 318 photographs, a video of Reluzco’s 45-minute interview with investigators, a written statement Reluzco provided, a credit card receipt from Reluzco’s drinking at Hooters, and a lab report showing marijuana residue on a pipe found in Reluzco’s car.
Roth said Reluzco spoke candidly to police after the wreck.
“He answered every question they asked — and elaborated,” Roth said.
Reluzco was indicted Feb. 11 on two charges — vehicular manslaughter and failure to avoid a stopped emergency vehicle, commonly known as the “move-over” law. As part of Reluzco’s agreement to plead guilty to vehicular manslaughter, Roth said, prosecutors have agreed to drop the move-over violation. That violation, Roth said, carries a fine but no jail time.