Editor's note: This story was originally published at 4:45 p.m. Sunday. It has since been updated multiple times.
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Rep. Janice Hahn expressed sadness Monday at the death of a U.S. Coast Guard petty officer who died when the Marina del Rey-based vessel he was aboard was rammed by a panga-type boat being piloted without lights near the Channel Islands.
Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III, 34, of Redondo Beach, was declared dead at about 2:21 a.m. Sunday, said Chief Deputy Medical Examiner James Baroni of the Ventura County Medical Examiner's Office.
Napolitano said she was "deeply saddened" to learn of Horne's death. She said Horne and his fellow crew members "were engaged in an at-sea interdiction when they came under threat by a small vessel that rammed their small boat."
"This tragedy reminds us of the dangers our men and women in uniform face every day, and the great risks they willingly take, as they protect our nation," she said.
“I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III as he was performing his duties protecting the safety of our citizens last night,” said Rep. Janice Hahn, who represents Redondo Beach and Marina del Rey as part of the 36th Congressional District. “Chief Petty Officer Horne’s service, dedication and sacrifice will never be forgotten. My thoughts and prayers are with CPO Horne’s family, friends and the men and women of the United States Coast Guard as they deal with this tragic loss.”
Horne was aboard the Marina del Rey-based Halibut when the crew was investigating the suspected smuggling boat near Santa Cruz Island, one of a cluster of three Channel Islands off the Ventura County coast, about 30 miles west of Malibu, according to Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Seth Johnson. The vessel was initially spotted by a Coast Guard aircraft.
Small panga boats are often used by drug smugglers.
Horne was aboard the small boat deployed to check out the vessel, which was running without any lights, according to the Coast Guard. The panga sped toward the Coast Guard boat, striking the boat before fleeing.
Horne—the boat's chief petty officer and boarding officer—was one of two Coast Guard members thrown overboard on impact. Horne sustained a traumatic head injury, according to the Coast Guard. The other guardsman, who was not identified, suffered minor injuries and is expected to be OK.
The two men were treated by crew aboard the Halibut, which then rushed to Port Hueneme, Calif., which was 15-20 miles away. Emergency crews met the cutter at the pier and pronounced Horne dead.
Another Coast Guard boat managed to stop the panga and detained two people, Johnson said. ABC7 reported that two others were still at large.
"I commend the responding Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection units whose quick actions led to the successful interdiction and apprehension of those believed to be involved," said Admiral Robert J. Papp, Coast Guard commandant, in a statement.
An unknown amount of marijuana was found on the boat, Johnson said Sunday.
The incident remains under investigation.
"Our hearts go out to the family and the loved ones of Chief Petty Officer Horne," Coast Guard Capt. James Jenkins said at a Sunday news conference at the Coast Guard Los Angeles Station in San Pedro. "All the members of team Coast Guard grieve along with them and are very sorry for their loss."
'An outstanding Coast Guard member'
This was not Horne's first encounter with a panga. In January of this year, the Halibut and a second Coast Guard vessel intercepted two smuggling boats carrying almost 2,000 pounds of marijuana northwest of Catalina Island.
Neither boat had their navigation lights on, "creating a level of suspicion as to why two boats would be operating in close proximity to one another, near a sparsely populated island around midnight, with no lights on," according to an article posted on the Coast Guard Compass blog.
“We got right up on them,” Horne told the Coast Guard Compass at the time. “We started talking from the ship, trying to find out what their story was and it wasn’t really adding up. That’s when we launched the small boat and the boarding team.”
Eight people were detained.
Before coming to California, Horne served at Emerald Isle, S.C., Coast Guard Station from June 2009 to June 2011, where he was recognized with the Coast Guard Commendation Medal as a chief boatswain's mate, town Mayor Art Schools wrote in his July 2011 Island Review column.
According to Schools, Horne was involved in 63 search-and-rescue missions resulting in 38 saved lives, the "most notable" of which was a capsized boat in July 2010:
In response to the distress call, (Horne) launched the unit’s 27-foot utility boat. When the utility boat got to the bar, sea conditions had deteriorated to six-foot breaking seas across the bar. He had to balance the safety of the crew and the lives of the people in the water. Under these very serious conditions, he coached a junior coxswain through the treacherous sea conditions to the capsized boat. All five people from the capsized boat were rescued and safely returned to shore.
Horne later moved to Redondo Beach, where he lived with his wife, Rachel. Neighbors told multiple television outlets Sunday that Rachel Horne is pregnant with the couple's second child.
"Chief Petty Officer Horne was an outstanding Coast Guard member," Jenkins said. "He gave his life in service, enforcing the laws of this nation."
—City News Service contributed to this report.