LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Two Mexican nationals were charged Monday with a Coast Guard officer’s death after ramming their panga boat into the officer’s search boat near the Channel Islands over the weekend, authorities reported.
Prosecutors accused Jose Meija-Leyva, who claimed he was the boat’s captain, and Manuel Beltran-Higuera of killing Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III while the officer was engaged in his official duties, according to the United States Attorney’s Office. Horne was a 34-year-old Redondo Beach resident and 14-year veteran of the Coast Guard.
The suspects’ ages were not immediately available.
“This tragedy reminds us of the dangers our men and women in uniform face every day, and the great risks they willingly take, as they protect our nation,” U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Chief Petty Officer Horne and all our Coast Guard personnel at this difficult time.”
Late Saturday, Horne and several other Coast Guard officers were called to investigate a 30-foot-long, open-bowed fishing vessel spotted in Smuggler’s Cove on Santa Cruz Island.
At 1:20 a.m. Sunday, the crew aboard the Coast Guard cutter “Halibut” located the panga-type boat 200 yards east of Santa Cruz Island. Four officers, including Horne, launched a rigged hull, inflatable boat and moved towards the panga boat. They activated their police lights and identified themselves as law enforcement.
According to court documents, the panga boat’s crew turned their vessel towards Horne as his crew, revved up the engine and rammed into the Coast Guard boat.
Horne and another officer were thrown into the water. Horne was struck by a propeller and suffered a traumatic head injury. The other officer sustained a laceration to his knee.
The panga boat crew fled the scene.
Soon after, Horne and the officer were taken out of the water by a federal boat.
Coast Guard aircraft followed the panga boat until it was intercepted by a Coast Guard vessel approximately 20 miles north of the Mexico-United States border. Meija and Beltran were reportedly detained after further attempts to flee the Coast Guard.
Beltran told investigators that he and Leyva met up with someone in a border town, who paid them $3,000 to deliver gasoline. The government said they found fuel on the panga boat but would not say whether they found drugs.
Horne had reportedly conducted these kind of search missions dozens of times, all without injury.
Many of Horne’s colleagues shared high praise for the officer.
“He was a man of honor and I was proud to call him chief. As a chief we are in a position to influence those that work with us, and Chief Horne influenced his crew to seek better ways of doing business and to be proud of what you do. He understood and he lived the Coast Guard motto of honor, respect and finally giving the ultimate sacrifice of devotion to duty,” Coast Guard Chief Kellian Whidden said.
Horne is survived by his wife, who is pregnant, and their young child.