Coast Guard death suspect says he was aiding 'lost friends'
A suspected drug smuggler who captained the boat that allegedly knocked a U.S. Coast Guardsman into the ocean, resulting in his death, told authorities he was "taking gasoline to some lost friends," according to federal prosecutors.
The 13-page affidavit in support of charging two Mexican nationals — boat captain Jose Mejia-Leyva and Manuel Beltran-Higuera — in the death of Terrell Horne III details a violent confrontation near Santa Cruz Island on Sunday before the the suspects surrendered.
After telling authorities he was taking gas to friends who he said were north of Los Angeles, Mejia-Leyva asked for an attorney and stopped answering questions, prosecutors said.
But Beltran-Higuera told authorities a man approached him in Mexico and offered to pay him $3,000 if he took gasoline to a panga boat waiting in the U.S., the affidavit said. When he arrived at a panga in Mexico, Beltran-Higuera said he recognized the captain as a man named "Blackey," whom he later identified as Mejia-Leyva.
Beltran-Higuera said the captain told him they would meet another panga north of Los Angeles and transfer the fuel. He told authorities he didn't know if the other boat would be carrying drugs or people.
When they arrived at the island where they were supposed to meet, Beltran-Higuera told authorities, the second panga never arrived. Instead, 20 minutes later, a Coast Guard boat and helicopter showed up.
According to the affidavit, Beltran-Higuera said he saw the lights and siren and heard someone yell, "Police! Stop! Put your hands up!" He then heard "a series of gunshots before the Coast Guard vessel collided with the panga," the affidavit said.
The affidavit said the suspects "throttled the engines and steered the panga boat toward" an inflatable Coast Guard boat. As the suspects headed straight toward the Coast Guard boat, authorities tried to steer out of the way and fired several shots at the panga.
But the panga rammed into the front of the inflatable, throwing Horne and a second crew member into the ocean.
"As a result of the panga boat crew's actions, Officer Horne was struck by a propeller in the head and sustained a traumatic head injury," the affidavit said. He was later pronounced dead by paramedics.
Crew member Brandon Langdon suffered a cut to his knee.
The Coast Guard aircraft followed the panga boat from above, along with a helicopter. A second Coast Guard response boat intercepted the panga just after 5 a.m., about 20 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.
As the second Coast Guard boat pulled up next to the panga, authorities ordered the suspects off the panga at gunpoint. Again the suspects attempted to flee, according to the affidavit. Three times, authorities attempted to stop the suspects at gunpoint — each time, the driver of the boat revved the engines and tried to speed away.
Finally, the boat broke down, authorities said. When the suspects refused to surrender, Coast Guard crew members deployed pepper spray on both men. They were arrested after what federal authorities described as a brief struggle between the panga captain and Coast Guard members.
The affidavit said the boat was the second boat intercepted by the Coast Guard cutter Halibut that night. The first was spotted about 11:30 p.m. Saturday — authorities said its lights were off and it was not moving.
Crew members of the halibut boarded the boat and arrested two people, according to the affidavit. Authorities believe that boat may have been serving as a fuel supplier for drug smuggling or human trafficking.
The second boat, with Mejia-Leyva and Beltran-Higuera, was spotted soon after.