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Smugglers kill Coast Guardsman off the California Coast

Chief Petty Officer, Terrell Horne, 34, died yesterday of head injuries after being stuck by a vessel suspected of smuggling drugs off the California Coast. The incident occurred near the Channel Islands, west of Los Angeles and about 180 miles northwest of the U.S.-Mexico border. Today in Los Angeles, two Mexican men, Jose Meija Leyva and Manuel Beltran Higuera were charged with killing a federal officer while the officer was on duty. Attorneys for both men did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A judge has scheduled a preliminary hearing for December 17.

Ralph DeSio, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman, said that Horne is the first law enforcement official to die on California’s seas since a spike in illegal activity there occurred several years ago. At least six people aboard suspected smuggling ships have been killed since the 2010 fiscal year.

A Coast Guard C-130 plane spotted the 30-foot “panga” (old, single-engine wooden fishing skiffs) vessel running without lights near Santa Cruz Island, the largest of the eight Channel Islands. The 87-foot patrol cutter, Halibut, based in Marina del Rey, was dispatched in response to the report. Aboard the cutter is a 21-foot rigid-hull inflatable boat, which Horne and his team used to approach within 20 yards of the suspect boat. According to the complaint, the suspect boat gunned its engines around 1:20 A.M., knocking Horne and Brandon Langdon into the water. Langdon was treated for a knee injury and the other two crew members were unharmed.

According to

The Halibut’s commanding officer, Lt. Stewart Sibert, said Monday he and his crew were devastated by the loss of Horne, calling the Redondo Beach man the best shipmate he ever knew.

“He was my friend, he was my confidante, he was the glue that held my crew together,” Sibert said, choking back tears at a news conference. “He gave me advice more times than I could count.”

Just a few months ago, Horne helped save the lives of three people on a sailboat that was struggling against darkness and howling winds near the Channel Islands.

“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,” said Admiral Robert J. Papp, Coast Guard commandant.

Increasingly, smugglers are turning to California seas to bring people and drugs to the U.S. from Mexico. In the past eight years, the number of Border Patrol agents on land has doubled and hundreds of miles of fences and other barriers have been constructed, forcing smugglers to the Pacific Ocean.

U.S. authorities spotted 210 suspected smuggling vessels on California shores during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, up 15 percent from 183 incidents the previous year and more than quadruple the 45 incidents in 2008.

More than half the sightings are still in San Diego County, bordering Mexico, but boats are turning up as far north as San Luis Obispo County on California’s central coast. According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, there were 14 incidents in Los Angeles County last year, seven in Ventura County and 11 in Santa Barbara County.

-Bill at

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