LOS ANGELES – A veteran U.S. Coast Guard officer was killed Sunday after suspected smugglers rammed his vessel near Santa Cruz Island, Calif., casting him into the ocean with a fatal head wound.
Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III, 34, of Redondo Beach, Calif., was second in command of the Halibut, an 87-foot cutter based in Los Angeles.
Early Sunday morning, the Halibut was dispatched to investigate a boat operating near Santa Cruz Island, the largest of California’s eight Channel Islands. The island is roughly 25 miles southwest of Oxnard.
The boat, first detected by a patrol plane, had fallen under suspicion because it was operating in the middle of the night without lights and was a “panga”-style vessel, an open-hulled boat that has become “the choice of smugglers operating off the coast of California,” said Coast Guard spokesman Adam Eggers.
The Coast Guard cutter contains a smaller boat – a rigid-hull inflatable used routinely for search-and-rescue operations and missions that require a nimble approach. When Horne and his team approached in the inflatable, the suspect boat gunned its engine, maneuvered directly toward the Coast Guard inflatable, rammed it and fled.
The impact knocked Horne and another Coast Guard crew member into the water. Both were quickly plucked from the sea. Horne had suffered a traumatic head injury.
The second crew member knocked into the water suffered minor injuries and was treated and released from a hospital later Sunday. He was not identified.
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.