A Hooters restaurant in Maryland that allegedly sold drinks to a drunk customer before he drove off and fatally struck a police officer will surrender its alcohol license Nov. 1 and close permanently, Montgomery County officials said Monday.
Hooters was facing an Aug. 4 hearing before Montgomery’s Board of License Commissioners about the case, involving an outlet in Rockville. That hearing has been canceled, according to a signed agreement between the county and Hooters.
In the agreement letter from Thursday, a Hooters attorney said the company was deeply saddened by the death of Officer Noah Leotta.
“Without question, Officer Leotta was a beacon of light for everyone with whom he interacted, and his tragic death should have never have occurred,” wrote the attorney, Edward J. Gilliss, adding that the agreement “both holds Hooters accountable, and hopefully contributes to the community’s healing process.”
The chain said it would not try to sell or transfer the license before giving it up in November.
The serving of beer and whiskey to the customer, Luis Reluzco, 47, was one action in a sequence of events Dec. 3 that had a deadly outcome, court files show. According to police reports, Reluzco walked into Hooters at 5:22 p.m. He stayed for more than four hours, pulling out of the parking lot onto Rockville Pike at 9:40 p.m. and heading north.
Leotta was working a holiday drunken-driving enforcement task force that night, and he had pulled over a vehicle in the far-right northbound lane. The officer had stepped out of his marked cruiser, spoken to the driver, and was walking back to his police car when Reluzco struck Leotta’s car and then the officer. Reluzco’s blood-alcohol concentration was 0.22, nearly three times the legal limit, police records showed.
Leotta, 24, died at Suburban Hospital a week later.
In the letter from the Hooters attorney, the restaurant did not specifically say whether its employees should have stopped serving Reluzco.
In such cases, generally, even when regulators can tally how many drinks were purchased by a customer, it can be difficult to establish that employees at bars and restaurants saw the customer drinking every drink or knew whether the customer was buying rounds for others.
“The horrific events of Dec. 3, 2015, which led to Officer Leotta’s tragic death will never be forgotten,” Hooters said in the letter from its attorney about the license. “Hooters is deeply saddened by the loss of Officer Leotta, and will continue to work diligently to prevent such a loss in the future.”
“This situation has clearly had a profound impact on the community, and understandably so,” Kelly Propst, a Hooters spokeswoman, said in a statement. “In light of the tragic circumstances, [the company] felt like surrendering the license was the right thing to do.”
Leotta’s death captured national attention and spurred Maryland lawmakers to tighten drunken-driving laws with a measure named for the officer.
Reluzco has pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter. He is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 23.
Leotta’s parents, Rich and Marcia, had led efforts to get the legislation passed that expanded penalties. They also had called on the county to take action against Hooters.
Rich Leotta had planned to attend the license hearing.
In an interview Monday, he said he thought the prospect of penalties from the liquor board motivated Hooters. “I think this will be a deterrent for other businesses so they do the right thing.”
Leotta said his family still battles crushing grief. But in keeping with tradition they had planned their annual trek — with more than 20 extended relatives — to the Delaware shore at the start of August.
With Hooters closing, he said, he won’t have to make a day trip back from the beach for the license hearing.