A U.S. Coast Guardsman died on Sunday and a second was wounded when they were thrown from a boat that was rammed by a panga fishing boat under investigation for smuggling in the waters off the Southern California coast, U.S. Coast Guard officials said.
The Coast Guard Cutter Halibut was investigating a panga about 1 a.m. near Santa Cruz Island when it was rammed by a boat suspected of smuggling drugs, officials said.
The guardsman was identified as Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III. He was 34-years-old and based in Marina del Rey. Photos posted on Facebook show the charasmatic coast guardsman with a big smile, surrounded by his family.
During a press conference in Long Beach on Sunday, Capt. James Jenkins, the Coast Guard commander for the L.A. sector, praised Horne.
"Our fallen shipmate stood the watch, on the front lines, protecting our nation and we are all indebted to him for his service and sacrifice," Jenkins said.
Coast Guard Commandant, Admiral Robert J. Papp said in a statement that the Coast Guard mourns his loss.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends and his shipmates aboard Coast Guard Cutter Halibut," Papp said.
The incident happened after a panga was spotted in the water near the island, the largest in the chain of Channel Islands in Santa Barbara County that sits about 20 miles southwest of Port Hueneme.
Once the Coast Guard boat got closer and shined its lights, the panga motored toward them and struck the Coast Guard boat before motoring away. The imact threw two of the four guardsmen from the boat into the water, officials said.
The other guardsman had minor injuries. He was taken to a hospital and released Sunday.
Horne died from severe head trauma.
The Coast Guard eventually stopped the fleeing panga, detained two people and seized drugs found onboard.
Details about the kind of drugs nor amount were available.
It's one in a string of cases in recent years -- a nearly daily occurrence -- in which boats are being found further north along the California coast ferrying both drugs and human cargo to evade a beefed-up law enforcement presence along the U.S.-Mexico border, officials said.