Two men who were allegedly involved in the killing of a Marina del Rey-based U.S. Coast Guard chief petty officer are pleading not guilty.
The suspects, Jose Meija-Leyva, 41, and Manuel Beltran-Higuera, 43, entered their pleas on Dec. 21 in U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III, 34, was killed on Dec. 2 after he was thrown from his search boat after it was rammed by a boat near the Channel Islands. Coast Guard officials believe the suspects were involved in a smuggling operation.
Horne suffered head injuries and was taken miles to the nearest dock at Port Hueneme, where he was pronounced dead.
Horne and other Coast Guard colleague were assigned to the USCG Cutter Halibut based in Marina del Rey. They were investigating what is being described as a “Mexican-style panga” for suspected smuggling activities and Horne, the cutter’s second in command, was part of a crew of four officers deployed on a smaller inflatable boat to try to intercept the panga.
When the Coast Guard boat approached with its blue law enforcement light flashing, the suspect boat drove directly into it before fleeing, knocking Horne and another crew member into the water, authorities said.
Horne was killed when he was struck in the head by a boat propeller.
Customs and Border Patrol and Coast Guard ships were able to chase the panga after the apparent ramming and arrested the two suspects.
According to federal prosecutors, a Coast Guard officer on the boat fired several shots at the panga while another Coast Guard member tried to steer the federal vessel out of the boat’s path.
A Coast Guard patrol plane had spotted the panga and another boat as it headed toward the Channel Islands without lights.
Horne, a 14-year Coast Guard veteran and Redondo Beach resident, is survived by two young sons and his wife, who is pregnant with their third child.
Meija-Leyva and Beltran-Higuera, who prosecutors say are from Mexico, are scheduled to return to court on Monday, Jan. 7.