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SPECIAL COVERAGE: Living With Wildfires: San Diego Firestorm 10 Years Later

Two Men Charged With Killing Coast Guard Officer After Ramming His Boat

Coast Guard Officer killed by panga boat

Coast Guard officer Terrell Horne, 34, was killed early Sunday morning off the coast of Southern California when a panga boat suspected of drug smuggling rammed into his inflatable Coast Guard craft.

According to a Coast Guard news release, Horne was aboard the Coast Guard cutter Halibut near Santa Cruz Island off the coast of Ventura. The Halibut deployed its inflatable craft to approach the suspect boat, as the panga was operating without any navigational lights.

It was then the panga drove directly into the inflatable Coast Guard boat, throwing Horne and another officer into the water. Horne suffered major head injuries. He was pronounced dead by emergency medical service units at Port Hueneme.

The Coast Guard was able to stop the panga and detained the two suspects aboard.

The two Mexican nationals have been charged with the killing of Horne, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. The panga boat's captain, Jose Meija-Leyva, and co-defendant Manuel Beltran-Higuera, whose ages were not immediately available, made an initial appearance in federal court in downtown Los Angeles and were ordered to remain jailed without bail pending a Dec. 21 arraignment.

They are charged with killing an officer of the United States engaged in his official duties.

Tearful colleagues hailed Horne Monday, calling him a dedicated leader who strongly influenced the lives of his crew.

"I had the privilege of serving with him for a year and a half,'' USCG Lt. Stewart Sibert, commander of the Halibut, said. "He was one of the strongest individuals I have ever known. I was blessed to have Terrell as my second in command. Words can't express the admiration that I have for him. He was my friend. He was my confidante. He was the glue that held my crew together.

"... The chief was a natural leader. He looked after the 12-man crew of Coast Guard Cutter Halibut like no one else could,'' Sibert said. "He gave me advice more times than I can count. And he had this great ability to look at somebody and it didn't matter if he was having a rough day, he could tell if something was wrong and he would drop what he was doing to help them and get them what they needed. He was the best shipmate I have ever known. ... He was a big brother to us all and he is absolutely irreplaceable.''

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano issued a statement saying she was "deeply saddened'' to learn of Horne's death. She said Horne and his fellow crew members "were engaged in an at-sea interdiction when they came under threat by a small vessel that rammed their small boat.''

"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,'' she said.

(Video above courtesy of KTLA-TV.)

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