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Two Mexican nationals charged in killing of U.S. Coast Guardsman

December 3, 2012 |  3:22 pm

Federal prosecutors charged two Mexican nationals in connection with killing U.S. Coast Guardsmen Terrell Horne III after they allegedly rammed his vessel with a drug-smuggling panga boat.

The two men, boat captain Jose Mejia-Leyva and Manuel Beltra-Higuera, are expected to appear in court Monday afternoon to face charges that they killed a federal officer.

Horne, 34, of Redondo Beach, was killed Sunday after suspected smugglers in a panga rammed his vessel off the Ventura County coast. He died of severe head trauma, officials said.

The Redondo Beach resident was second in command of the Halibut, an 87-foot patrol cutter based in Marina del Rey. Authorities said they could not recall a Coast Guard chief petty officer being killed in such a manner off the coast of California.

Early Sunday morning, the Halibut was dispatched to investigate a boat operating near Santa Cruz Island, the largest of California's eight Channel Islands. The island is roughly 25 miles southwest of Oxnard.

The boat, first detected by a patrol plane, had come under suspicion because it was operating in the middle of the night without lights and was a "panga"-style vessel, an open-hulled boat that has become "the choice of smugglers operating off the coast of California," said Coast Guard spokesman Adam Eggers.

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 guardsman into the water. Both were quickly plucked from the sea. Horne had suffered a traumatic head injury. While receiving medical care, he was raced to shore aboard the Halibut. Paramedics met the Halibut at the pier in Port Hueneme and declared Horne dead at 2:21 a.m.

The second crew member knocked into the water suffered minor injuries and was treated and released from a hospital later Sunday. He was not identified.

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-- Andrew Blankstein

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