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Suspect In U.S. Coast Guardsman’s Death Denies Smuggling Drugs

December 4, 2012

Maritime accidents can occur at any given moment, but a large portion of incidents at sea result in serious – if not fatal – accidents. Recently, a U.S. Coast Guardsman was killed Sunday after being knocked into the ocean by a boat whose captain was believed to have been smuggling drugs. But the suspect told authorities he was merely “taking gasoline to some lost friends.”

Two Mexican nationals, the boat captain Jose Mejia-Leyva and Manuel Beltran-Higuera, are suspects in the death of Coast Guardsman Terrell Horne III. According to an affidavit, Mejia-Leyva told authorities he was taking gas to friends, who he said were north of Los Angeles, but was behaving violently and refused to answer any more questions without an attorney present.

However, Beltran-Higuera tells a different story. He told authorities that a man approached him in Mexico and offered to pay him $3,000 if he took gasoline to a panga boat waiting in the United States. When he arrived, Beltran-Higuera said he recognized the captain as a man known as “Blackey,” whom he later identified as Mejia-Leyva. Beltran-Higuera said the captain then told him they would meet another panga north of Los Angeles and transfer the fuel. He said he was unaware of any drugs or people on the other boat.

Once the men arrived at their location, Beltran-Higuera told authorities the second vessel never showed up. Instead, a Coast Guard boat and helicopter arrived at the scene and the men were told to put their hands up. Beltran-Higuera said he then heard “a series of gunshots before the Coast Guard vessel collided with the panga.”

The affidavit says the suspects “throttled the engines and steered the panga boat toward” an inflatable Coast Guard boat, which is when authorities fired shots at the panga. The vessel then crashed into the Coast Guard boat, throwing Horne and a second crewmember into the ocean.

“As a result of the panga boat crew’s actions, Officer Horne was struck by a propeller in the head and sustained a traumatic head injury,” read the affidavit said. He was pronounced dead by paramedics shortly after the maritime accident.

The second crewmember, Brandon Langdon suffered a cut to his knee.

The Coast Guard aircraft and a helicopter then followed the panga boat and a second Coast Guard response boat intercepted the vessel roughly 20 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. When the Coast Guard boat pulled up next to the panga, authorities ordered the suspects off the vessel, but they attempted to flee. Authorities tried to stop the men at gunpoint three times and each time, the driver of the boat tried to speed away. The men were finally apprehended after the boat broke down, but the suspects refused to surrender and were pepper sprayed.

According to the affidavit, the panga was the second boat intercepted by the Coast Guard that night. Authorities believe the suspects were involved in a drug smuggling or human trafficking ring and the vessel was serving as a fuel supplier for others involved in the crime.

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