In one of the final acts of the Maryland General Assembly, the same version of Noah’s Law was passed by both the House of Delegates and State Senate. It’s named for Montgomery County police officer Noah Leotta. The 24-year-old died in December, after being struck by a suspected drunk driver. It was a long, hard fought battle to get Noah’s Law passed, and it came down to the wire. In the end, it was a unanimous decision.
“I was hoping this would be a lot easier, it was not. It was draining. I am drained,” says Rich Leotta, Noah’s father.
Rich continues to carry his son’s picture with him, as he has almost everywhere for the past few months. It’s been with him as he rallies to get the bill named for his son, passed.
Noah’s Law was officially voted in late Monday night, just 50 minutes before the deadline.
Today, Rich is donning a new accessory: An End-of-Watch pin.
“This pin, I just put it on today, I avoided it,” says Rich. “My wife does not like the End-of-Watch, it hurts her immensely.”
Although that pain will never go away, there’s a reason he is now wearing the pin. “He doesn’t have an End-of-Watch, he has a ‘start- of-watch.’ His sunset never happened,” says Rich. “Every time the interlock goes on a car, Noah will be on patrol.”
In Rich’s mind, Noah will still be on the streets, stopping intoxicated drivers as he was the night he was hit and killed by a man, suspected of driving drunk.
Now, because of Noah, there will be fewer convicted drunk drivers on the roads. If a person is convicted of driving drunk, they will be required to have an interlock device in their vehicle. Before it will start, they have to blow into the breathalyzer. If they fail, the car will not start.
“What Noah has accomplished here, make no mistake, this would not have happened without Noah’s sacrifice,” says Montgomery County Chief of Police, Thomas Manger.” “This legislation, for 6 years has been introduced and has failed. It’s Noah’s sacrifice that made this happen. Officer Noah Leotta will be saving lives for the next 100 years.”
The final version is 12 pages long, and Chief Manger says they’re pleased with the outcome. “We know that the Senate version was stronger than the house version and it’s our understanding that the Senate version is what was primarily adopted,” says Chief Manger.
Up until the final hour, the two bodies couldn’t seem to agree on the same version of the bill. “The two bills, the House being the weaker, the Senate being the stronger one. The House bill, the way I see it, essentially allowed for not taking the interlock and you get just suspension,” says Rich. “With the Senate version, you blow a .08 and you are legally drunk (behind the wheel), at the time of arrest you get an interlock. The person does not get back in that car unless the interlock is on that car.”
Rich says the bill does more than keep drunk drivers off the roads, it also helps them change their behavior. “The key for the interlock is these people don’t go to jail, no harsh punishment. But now they start thinking about what they are doing. It does have an impact, I heard from people who have the interlock during the hearings, it changes their lives.”
The process, however, was frustrating for both the Leotta’s. “I thought, this is common sense how difficult could this be? Man it was extremely difficult,” says Rich. “Until 11:30 last night, it was up and down back and forth.”
Chief Manger agrees. “It was a roller coaster this effort, especially for the Leotta family and Noah’s police family. There were times we thought this was going great and then all of a sudden there would be problems. This past weekend and even yesterday, we questioned whether this law was going to be passed.”
Life will be a little less busy for the Leotta’s now, no more fighting for the bill in Annapolis. “Yes I can come on camera, I can talk to you, but behind the scenes our heart is still broken. It will always be broken,” says Rich.
On Tuesday thought, he does have one important meeting. “What I plan to do is go to the cemetery and talk to Noah and give him one of these pin, and leave it behind and tell him this is for him. He’s still got more work to do, and his work is never going to end.”
Governor Hogan says he will happily sign the bill.
Maryland is now the 26th state to require interlock devices for convicted drunk drivers.
This, among many other things Noah Leotta managed to accomplish in his short 24 years on earth, will be his legacy. “I couldn’t have Noah die and not have a legacy. I would talk with him and say, he was my legacy but that didn’t happen. Noah was going to have a legacy. This is legacy,” says Rich.