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Coast Guardsman dies after suspects ram boat; Napolitano reacts

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Monday she was saddened by this weekend's death of a U.S. Coast Guardsman in the Channel Islands.

"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," Napolitano said.

A veteran member of the Coast Guard, Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III was killed on Sunday morning after suspected smugglers in a panga rammed his small patrol boat near Santa Cruz Island.

Horne, 34, of Redondo Beach, was thrown from the boat in the collision and suffered a fatal head injury. He had served as the second in command of the Halibut, an 87-foot patrol cutter based in Marina del Rey.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of … Horne and all our Coast Guard personnel at this difficult time," Napolitano said in a statement.

Using a helicopter and a 45-foot boat stationed in Los Angeles, the Coast Guard later found the panga and stopped it. Two men were detained. The Coast Guard declined to identify them or say whether drugs were found aboard the boat.

In the last five years, as U.S. authorities have become increasingly successful at blocking traditional land routes, smugglers have taken increasingly to the sea — ferrying drugs and immigrants. Authorities believe a smuggling vessel is launched toward California every three days; the number of immigrants and smugglers arrested at sea or along the coast more than doubled to 867 in 2010 from the previous year.

Drug runners and human smugglers have run ashore at a dog beach in Del Mar, at Crystal Cove in Orange County and next to the San Onofre nuclear power plant. Border Patrol agents have been diverted from land to sea, and an agency supervisor recently called the ocean "the front line."

The eruption in sea-based smuggling has created the same cat-and-mouse game in the ocean that has long existed along the U.S.-Mexico border. Smuggling boats often travel without lights and at a slow speed to limit their wakes. When U.S. agents began disrupting routes into San Diego beaches, smugglers began conducting counter-surveillance, using radios to direct boat pilots to unguarded beaches.

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-- Scott Gold

 
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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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