Affidavit details violent struggle after Coast Guardsman killed
A U.S. Coast Guardsman died after he was knocked off his boat by suspected Mexican drug smugglers, then struck by a propeller, 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 at sea, which included gunfire and pepper spray, before the the suspects surrendered.
A Coast Guard aircraft first spotted a recreational boat about 11:30 p.m. Saturday, about a mile from Smuggler's Cove near Santa Cruz Island. The boat was not moving and had its navigation lights off, according to the affidavit.
Horne's 87-foot patrol boat, the Halibut, responded to the area. Crew members 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.
Not long after, the Coast Guard aircraft spotted a second boat in Smuggler's Cove.
Several Coast Guard personnel, including Horne, boarded an inflatable boat and began searching for the panga.
They spotted the panga, which had its lights off, about 1:20 a.m. Sunday, just off the coast of Santa Cruz Island. They turned on their blue flashing lights and ordered the panga occupants, in both English and Spanish, to stop and put their hands up, the affidavit said.
Instead, the suspects "throttled the engines and steered the panga boat toward the small boat." As the suspects headed straight toward the Coast Guard's inflatable 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 captain waived his Miranda rights and told authorities he was "taking gasoline to some lost friends."
-- Andrew Blankstein