On Monday, the Mexican national convicted of killing a veteran Coast Guard officer was sentenced to life in federal prison without parole.
Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III was killed off the Santa Barbara coast in 2012 when suspected smuggler Jose Mejia-Leyva rammed his 30' panga into the Coast Guard RIB in which Horne and three other Coasties had been deployed from the USCG cutter Halibut.
Horne struck his head on the boat's propeller when he and another crewmember were thrown overboard after the collision. Horne was survived by a wife and three sons.
After the assault, the panga sped away but was intercepted hours later about 20 miles north of the Mexican border. Authorities believe that the men in the panga were supplying gasoline to other smugglers along the California coast, the Los Angeles Times reported. The other man aboard the panga was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
About 25 Coast Guard members attended the sentencing of the panga captain. On Tuesday the Los Angeles-Long Beach Coast Guard held a ceremony naming a building in Horne's honor, the Daily Breeze reported.
Officials say that Horne was the first Coastie murdered in the line of duty since 1927, according to the Los Angeles Times. That surprised me. I thought that the number of Coast Guard fatalities in incidents like this would be higher because of the risks involved in policing the drug trade.
More than 100,000 lbs. of illegal drugs were taken off the water in 2012, Adm. Karl Schultz, the Coast Guard’s 11th District commander told the Daily Breeze. "[The drug trade] is a dark business which, if left unchecked, threatens our society, our security and our way of life,” Schultz said.
Whatever your position on the war on drugs, one must admire the service and sacrifice of Coast Guard crews that operate on the front lines. Although a life sentence for the panga skipper does not dull the loss of Horne, I hope it does bring some comfort to his family and colleagues.