Federal prosecutors charged two Mexican nationals in the death of a 14-year Coast Guard veteran, who was killed Sunday after his vessel was slammed by a suspicious fishing boat, sending him overboard.
A criminal complaint filed Monday charged Jose Meija-Leyva and Manuel Beltran-Higuera with killing Chief Petty Officer Terrell, Horne III while he was engaged in official duties, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles.
Horne was one of four members sent in a small inflatable Coast Guard boat to investigate a suspicious vessel—a 30-foot long open-bowed fishing boat or “panga”—passing through Smuggler’s Cove near Santa Cruz Island, Calif. at about 1:20 a.m. Dec. 2.
The panga sped toward the small Coast Guard vessel after it activated the its police lights, the U.S. Attorney's office said. Despite firing warning shots, the panga continued to speed toward the small vessel, eventually striking it and sending two officers, including Horne, overboard.
Horne was struck by a propeller and was later pronounced dead after sustaining a traumatic head injury.
The Coast Guard still managed to stop the fleeing panga 20 miles north of the initial incident, detain the two suspects and seize drugs found onboard, according to the U.S. Attorney's office. Details about the kind or quantity of drugs on board were not available.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement Monday that the “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 added that “our thoughts and prayers are with the family of BMC Horne and all of our Coast Guard personnel at this difficult time."
Three Coast Guard members who served with Horne described him Monday as a mentor who remained calm during stressful situations. Casey Curry, of Coast Guard Station Long Beach, met Horne in 2001 when they were stationed in South Carolina.
"My first impression of him was that this is one squared-away Third Class," said Curry. "His true sense of leadership echoed throughout the station. He was that type of guy who would give you the shirt off his back. Everyone just remembers how loyal, level-headed, and what a friend he was."
Horne (pictured, above, with son) joined the Coast Guard at age 18, Curry said.
Another Guardsman talked about the time the Halibut encountered a group of kayakers who were blown off-shore by an unexpected storm. The kayakers were cold and exhausted, but Horne guided the crew as they pulled the kayakers from the water, then retrieved blankets and hot chocolate for them.
Meija-Leyva and Beltran-Higuera were expected to make initial court appearances in Los Angeles Monday, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.