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Two Charged in Death of Coast Guard Officer

coast-guard-guyLOS ANGELES — Two Mexican nationals have been charged in the killing of U.S. Coast Guard member after they allegedly rammed his vessel with a drug-smuggling panga boat.

The two men, boat captain Jose Mejia-Leyva and Manuel Beltra-Higuera, appeared in court Monday afternoon to face charges of killing a federal officer.

Both suspects were ordered held without bail.

Terrell Horne III, 34, of Redondo Beach, was killed in the line of duty Sunday when suspected drug smugglers rammed his vessel near Santa Cruz Island.

He was second in command of the Halibut, an 87-foot patrol cutter based in Marina del Rey.

Early Sunday morning, the Halibut was dispatched to investigate a boat operating near Santa Cruz Island, which is the largest of the Channel Islands.

The boat, a “panga”-style vessel commonly used by smugglers, was first detected by a patrol plane.

It had fallen under suspicion because it was operating at night without any lights.

The Coast Guard cutter contains a smaller boat — a rigid-hull inflatable used routinely for search-and-rescue operations and missions that require a nimble approach.

When Horne and his team approached in the inflatable, the suspect boat gunned its engine, maneuvered directly toward the Coast Guard inflatable, rammed it and fled.

The impact knocked Horne and another Coast Guardsman into the water.

Both were rescued, but Horne suffered a massive head injury caused by a propeller, according to the affidavit.

Paramedics met the Halibut at the pier at Port Hueneme and declared him dead at 2:21 a.m.

“Chief Petty Officer Horne was an outstanding Coast Guard member,” said Coast Guard Capt. James Jenkins.

“He gave his life in service, enforcing the laws of this nation. Our hearts go out to the family and loved ones of Chief Petty Officer Horne,” Jenkins continued.

“All of the members of team Coast Guard grieve along with them, and are so very sorry for their loss,” he said.

Horne’s shipmate suffered minor injuries and was treated and then released on Sunday.

According to the affidavit, military aircraft followed the alleged smugglers’ 30-foot craft as it made its way toward Mexico.

With the two men futilely trying to restart their sputtering engine 20 miles north of the border, another Coast Guard vessel overtook them.

Crew members demanded their surrender at gunpoint. When the men kept trying to start their engine, the Coast Guard crew doused them with pepper spray.

The two suspects were detained. Authorities believe they had been supplying gasoline to other smuggling craft operating off the California coast.

Horne arrived in Southern California last summer after serving for two years as an executive petty officer in Emerald Isle, N.C.

There, he received a Coast Guard Commendation Medal for his leadership in 63 search-and-rescue cases, in which 38 lives were saved.

On Monday, Horne’s shipmates shared some memories of their colleague and friend.

“He is the best shipmate I’ve ever known. He was a friend. He was a big brother to us all and he’s absolutely irreplaceable,” said Lt. Steward Sibert, commanding officer of the cutter Halibut.

“He understood and he lived the Coast Guard motto or honor, respect and finally giving the ultimate sacrifice of devotion to duty,” said Executive Petty Officer Kellian Whidden.

Horne leaves behind a wife and a young son. According to neighbors in Redondo Beach, Horne’s wife is pregnant with the couple’s second child.

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