Discuss as:

Mexican nationals charged in US Coast Guardsman's death

U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III who died Sunday while chasing a suspected smuggler's boat off the California coast, was remembered Monday as a leader and mentor who never shied away from hazardous duty. NBC's Mike Taibbi reports.

Federal prosecutors on Monday charged two Mexican nationals in the killing of a Coast Guardsman who died during a counter-drug operation off the California coast.

Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III was killed Sunday when he was thrown off a Coast Guard cutter after a suspicious vessel rammed into it, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles. Horne died from a traumatic head injury. Another guardsman was treated for minor injuries.

The suspects, Jose Meija-Leyva and Manuel Beltran-Higuera, were both expected to make initial court appearances in Los Angeles Monday, according to the U.S. Attorney's office. Meija-Leyva told investigators that he was the captain of the "panga" boat, the release said.

A panga is an open, low-sided fishing boat that is favored by Mexican smugglers, according to The Associated Press.


AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard/ Lt. Stewart Sibert

This undated photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard shows Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III, stationed on the Cutter Halibut. Horne died early Sunday from injuries sustained during law enforcement operations near Santa Cruz Island, Calif.

Early Sunday, the Cutter Halibut approached the suspicious boat, and personnel identified themselves as law enforcement, the U.S. Attorney's office said. After a confrontation that resulted in the panga's ramming the Coast Guard boat, Horne and another guardsman were thrown into the water.

The panga boat fled the scene, according to authorities, but was intercepted by a Coast Guard vessel about 20 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. At that time, suspects Meija-Leyva and Beltran-Higuera were detained, the U.S. Attorney's office said.

Watch US News crime videos on NBCNews.com 

Horne, 34, was a 14-year veteran of the Coast Guard.

"Our fallen shipmate stood the watch on the front lines protecting our nation, and we are all indebted to him for his service and sacrifice," Coast Guard commandant Admiral Robert J. Papp told the AP.

The Los Angeles Border Enforcement Security Task Force in San Pedro, Calif. is investigating.

The number of suspected smuggling vessels spotted on California shores by U.S. authorities has more than quadrupled since 2008, according to the AP.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

More content from NBCNews.com:

Follow US news from NBCNews.com on Twitter and Facebook