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Coast Guard officer killed on the job is remembered

Hundreds mourn Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III at a service on Terminal Island. The memorial is a reminder of what officials say is a growing threat of smugglers along the nation's coasts.

December 09, 2012|By Robert Faturechi, Los Angeles Times
  • A member of the Coast Guard can be seen saluting in the reflection of a family portrait of Terrell Horne, who was killed in the line of duty.
A member of the Coast Guard can be seen saluting in the reflection of a family… (Rick Loomis, Los Angeles…)

Hundreds came in uniform to Terminal Island on Saturday to say goodbye to the veteran Coast Guardsman killed last week when his boat was rammed by suspected smugglers. His shipmates called him a patriot and gave him the standard salute for a comrade killed in action.

But amid the pomp and circumstance of military mourning — the flyovers and rifle salutes — another side emerged to Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III, 34. A doting father known to do push-ups with his two young sons on his back. A giving friend who smoked cigars with his buds. A warrior willing to dress in ugly holiday sweaters around Christmastime.

His colleagues, in their formal bravo uniforms, could be seen wiping away tears as Horne's brother-in-law told his widow, pregnant with a third child, that the hole in her heart would never go away, nor should it.

PHOTOS: Memorial for Coast Guard officer

"The goal is to create a permanent space in your heart that he can live in," he said. "That hole that you're feeling right now is not something to be feared."

The memorial was a reminder of what officials say is a growing threat of smugglers along the nation's coasts. Last Sunday, Horne and three shipmates spotted a panga — an open fishing boat favored by smugglers ferrying marijuana bales and illegal immigrants — running without lights near the Santa Barbara coast. In the darkness, they turned on their blue flashing lights and shouted, in English and Spanish: "Stop! Police! Put your hands up!"

But the two men aboard the panga throttled their engines, authorities said, and headed straight for the small, inflatable Coast Guard boat. Crew members fired on the suspects but couldn't stop the vessel from careening into theirs, a collision that sent Horne into the water with a fatal head wound. His colleagues said Horne may have saved the life of the boat's coxswain by pushing him from the helm, and exposing himself to the oncoming boat.

The men on the panga — believed to be supplying gasoline to other smuggling craft along the California coast — initially got away but were later arrested as they tried to flee back to Mexico. On Saturday, top officials in attendance at Horne's memorial said his death underscored the dangers posed by smugglers abandoning well-policed land routes in favor of the sea.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano called the attack "a reminder of the unique dangers the men and women of the Coast Guard face." Robert Papp, the commandant of the Coast Guard, was more blunt. "Those engaged in this dark business," he said, "they're bold and they're growing bolder and they're a danger to our people."

Authorities said they could not recall another Coast Guard member being killed in such a manner off the California coast.

Run-ins with seaborne smugglers have nearly doubled since 2010, many along the more secluded beaches of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Some local officials in those areas have expressed alarm as smugglers move farther out to sea and farther north to avoid detection.

The focus Saturday, though, was on remembering Horne. Napolitano recounted his rescue of kayakers off Catalina island — and the blankets and hot chocolate he gave them afterward. Horne's commanding officer, Steward Sibert, remembered finishing off patrol shifts with Horne by sitting on their ship's fantail, watching the sunset and yakking about solving the world's problems. Others recalled how thrilled Horne was after a promotion.

Horne, of Redondo Beach, was second in command of the Coast Guard Cutter Halibut, based in Marina del Rey. During the last week, the Coast Guard promoted Horne again, this time posthumously, making him a boatswain's mate senior chief.

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

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