A veteran U.S. Coast Guard chief petty officer was killed Sunday after suspected smugglers rammed his vessel near California’s Santa Cruz Island, 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 patrol cutter based in Marina del Rey, Calif. Authorities told the Los Angeles Times that they could not recall a Coast Guard chief petty officer being killed in such a manner off the coast of California.
Early Sunday morning, the Halibut was dispatched to investigate a boat operating near Santa Cruz, 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," Coast Guard spokesman Adam Eggers told the Times.
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.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of our shipmate. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends, and his shipmates aboard Coast Guard cutter Halibut,” Coast Guard commandant Admiral Robert J. Papp said. “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.