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USCG Petty Officer Killed During Run-in with Panga

posted: 12/4/2012
SAN DIEGO (AP) — A Coast Guardsman fired several gunshots from an inflatable boat before it was slammed by another vessel Dec. 2 in a crash that caused the first American law enforcement fatality since the smuggling of drugs and immigrants by boat began spiking along the California coast several years ago.                        

A criminal complaint filed Dec. 3 against two Mexican nationals aboard the suspect vessel disclosed the gunshots and other measures taken by the crew to avoid getting hit early Sunday off Santa Cruz Island.                        

Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III, 34, died from head trauma after being struck by a propeller. The complaint doesn't say which boat hit him.                        

Horne was assigned to the 87-foot Coast Guard Cutter Halibut, based in Marina del Rey, which was dispatched after a Coast Guard C-130 plane reportedly spotted a 30-foot panga running without lights near Santa Cruz Island. The panga was suspected of involvement in a drug smuggling operation.                        

The cutter carries a 21-foot rigid-hull inflatable boat that the Coast Guard routinely uses on missions that require more speed and agility than the cutter can deliver.                        

Using the inflatable boat, Horne and his team came within about 20 yards of the suspect vessel at 1:20 a.m. The Coast Guard boat flashed its blue lights and the crew ordered the suspects to stop in English and Spanish, before the panga gunned its engine and powered toward the inflatable at high speed, knocking Horne and colleague Brandon Langdon into the water, the complaint states.                        

Jonathan D'Arcy, one of four officers on the inflatable boat, fired several shots at the panga to avoid a collision, the complaint said. Crewmember Michael Walker attempted to steer out of the way, but the panga struck the front and left side of the Coast Guard boat.                        

Langdon was treated for a knee injury. D'Arcy and Walker were unharmed.                        

Coast Guard crews followed the suspects by air and sea for nearly four hours until the vessel's engine died 20 miles north of the Mexican border.                        

An officer used pepper spray on suspects Jose Meija Leyva and Manuel Beltran Higuera, who were charged with killing a federal officer while the officer was on duty.                        

Meija Leyva identified himself as the captain and told authorities he was taking gasoline to lost friends, according to the complaint. Beltran Higuera told authorities he was offered $3,000 to deliver gasoline to another boat that was waiting for them, but they never found it.                        

Attorneys for the men did not respond to phone messages seeking comment. A judge scheduled a preliminary hearing for Dec. 17.
                         
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of our shipmate,” said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends, and his shipmates aboard Coast Guard Cutter Halibut. We are focused on supporting them during this very difficult time.
                        
“Our fallen shipmate stood the watch on the front lines protecting our nation, and we are all indebted to him for his service and sacrifice,” Adm. Papp said. “I commend the responding Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection units, whose quick actions led to the successful interdiction and apprehension of those believed to be involved.”                        

The incident remained under investigation at press time.

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