Two Mexican nationals pleaded not guilty on Friday to killing a Marina del Rey based U.S. Coast Guard chief petty officer who was thrown into the ocean when the search boat he was aboard was rammed by a smuggling boat near the Channel Islands.
Jose Meija-Leyva, 41, and Manuel Beltran-Higuera, 43, entered their pleas in U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles. They are due back in court for a pretrial hearing on Jan. 7.
They are charged with killing an officer of the United States engaged in his official duties. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III, 34, of Redondo Beach was struck in the head by a boat propeller when he was thrown into the water. Another USCG member—Brandon Langdon—suffered a non-life-threatening knee laceration, prosecutors said.
Horne, a 14-year Coast Guard veteran, is survived by two young sons and his wife. He and the other injured Coast Guard member were assigned to the USCG Cutter Halibut, based in Marina del Rey. Coast Guard spokesman Adam T. Eggers said earlier this month the boat that struck the Coast Guard vessel was a "Mexican-style panga" traveling at a "high rate of speed."
Customs and Border Patrol and Coast Guard ships were able to chase the panga after the apparent ramming and arrested the two suspects. The USCG Cutter Halibut was tracking a smuggling boat off Santa Cruz Island, one of a cluster of three Channel Islands sitting off the Ventura County coast, about 30 miles west of Malibu around 1 a.m. Dec. 2.
A Coast Guard patrol plane had spotted the panga and another boat as it headed toward the Channel Islands without lights. The Halibut was sent to Santa Cruz Island, and had arrested two people from one boat. The Halibut lowered a small, inflatable chase boat into the water, and the small federal craft activated its blue lights and siren.
At that point, the panga's captain changed direction and drove into the small boat. According to federal prosecutors, a Coast Guard officer on the boat fired several shots at the panga boat while another USCG member tried to steer to federal vessel out of the panga's path.
Horne and the other Coast Guard member were thrown into the water and were immediately picked up by another federal boat. Horne suffered head injuries and was taken roughly 15 to 20 miles to the nearest dock, at Port Hueneme, where he was pronounced dead.
—Editor Nicole Mooradian contributed to this report.