Two Mexican nationals were charged today with the killing of a Marina del Rey-based U.S. Coast Guard chief petty officer who was thrown into the ocean when the search boat he was aboard was rammed by a panga-type smuggling boat near the Channel Islands.
Jose Meija-Leyva and Manuel Beltran-Higuera, whose ages were not immediately available, were expected to make an initial appearance in federal court in downtown Los Angeles this afternoon on a charge of killing an officer of the United States engaged in his official duties.
They are accused in the death of Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne, 34, who was pronounced dead early Sunday morning at Port Hueneme, where he and another officer were taken after the vessel they were aboard was rammed by the panga boat near the Channel Islands, according to Adam Eggers of the Coast Guard.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Horne was struck in the head by a boat propeller. The other USCG member -- who was not identified -- suffered a non-life-threatening knee laceration, prosecutors said.
Horne, a 14-year Coast Guard veteran, is survived by a young son and pregnant wife.
He and the other injured Coast Guard member were assigned to the USCG Cutter Halibut, based in Marina del Rey.
"I had the privilege of serving with him for a year and a half,'' USCG Lt. Stewart Sibert, commander of the Halibut, said. ``He was one of the strongest individuals I have ever known. I was blessed to have Terrell as my second in command. Words can't express the admiration that I have for him. He was my friend. He was my confidante. He was the glue that held my crew together.
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano issued a statement saying she was ``deeply saddened'' to learn of Horne's death. She said Horne
and his fellow crew members ``were engaged in an at-sea interdiction when they came under threat by a small vessel that rammed their small boat.''
"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,'' she said.
Eggers said the boat that struck the Coast Guard vessel was a "Mexican-style panga'' traveling at a ``high rate of speed.'' Customs and Border Patrol and Coast Guard ships were able to chase the panga after the apparent ramming and arrested the two suspects, according to USCG Petty Officer Seth Johnson.
Johnson said the Halibut was tracking a smuggling boat off Santa Cruz Island, one of a cluster of three Channel Islands sitting off the Ventura County coast, about 30 miles west of Malibu around 1 a.m. Sunday.
A Coast Guard patrol plane had spotted the panga and another boat as it headed toward the Channel Islands without lights. The Halibut was sent to Santa Cruz Island, and had arrested two people from one boat.
The Halibut lowered a small, inflatable chase boat into the water, and the small federal craft activated its blue lights and siren. At that point, the panga's captain changed direction and drove into the small boat, apparently deliberately, Johnson said.
According to federal prosecutors, a Coast Guard officer on the boat fired several shots at the panga boat while another USCG member tried to steer to federal vessel out of the panga's path.
Horne and the other Coast Guard member were thrown into the water and were immediately picked up by another federal boat.
Horne suffered head injuries and was taken roughly 15 to 20 miles to the nearest dock, at Port Hueneme.