Collision with suspicious craft killed Coast guard officer

Federal prosecutors have charged two Mexican nationals in the killing of a Coast Guard officer who died as a result of being thrown from a patrol vessel that was rammed by a small boat operated by the Mexicans.

A criminal complaint filed Monday afternoon in U. S. District Court charges the two men in the death of Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III, a 14-year-veteran of the Coast Guard who died early Sunday morning while his boat was attempting to interdict the boat near Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands National Park.

The two men charged with killing an officer of the United States while that officer was engaged in his official duties are José Meija-Leyva, who told investigators that he was the captain of the boat, and Manuel Beltran-Higuera, said the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Horne, a 34-year-old Redondo Beach resident, was killed during a law enforcement operation that began late Saturday when a Coast Guard airplane identified a suspicious boat about one mile off Santa Cruz Island. After Coast Guard personnel on the Coast Guard cutter “Halibut” boarded the boat, the airplane identified another suspicious vessel nearby in Smuggler’s Cove on Santa Cruz Island, according to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint. The airplane reported that the suspicious vessel in Smuggler’s Cove was an approximately 30-foot-long open-bowed fishing vessel, commonly referred to as a panga.

Coast Guard officers aboard the “Halibut” launched the boat’s small, rigid hull, inflatable boat with four officers aboard. The Coast Guard small boat crew located the panga boat approximately 200 yards from the eastern shore of Santa Cruz Island at approximately 1:20 a.m. Sunday. As the Coast Guard’s small boat approached the panga, the officers activated the boat’s police lights and identified themselves as law enforcement. The crew members of the panga then throttled the engines and steered the panga boat toward the small boat, according to the affidavit. As the panga rapidly approached the Coast Guard’s small boat, the officer at the helm attempted to avoid a collision by steering out of the path of the panga, and another officer fired several shots from his service weapon at the panga.

Despite these efforts, the panga rammed into the Coast Guard’s small boat, ejecting Horne and another officer into the water, the complaint alleges. Horne was struck by a propeller in the head and sustained a traumatic head injury. He was subsequently pronounced dead by paramedics. The other officer sustained a laceration to his knee.

After striking the Coast Guard’s small boat, the panga crew fled. Coast Guard aircraft followed the panga until it was intercepted by a Coast Guard vessel approximately 20 miles north of the Mexico-United States border.

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