By Chris Francescani NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Coast Guard officer investigating a suspected drug smuggling boat near Santa Cruz, California, was killed Sunday when the boat's driver accelerated, running over two approaching patrol officers, a Coast Guard official said Sunday.
A second Coast Guard boat pursued the fleeing vessel, detained two unidentified suspects and recovered an unknown amount of marijuana from the vessel, Coast Guard Petty Officer Seth Johnson said.
The officer died Sunday morning after suffering a severe head injury when he was struck and thrown into the ocean near Santa Cruz Island, Johnson said. A second officer thrown overboard sustained minor injuries. His name was not released.
The officer killed was identified as Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III, an investigator with the Ventura County medical examiner's office said.
A Coast Guard patrol aircraft spotted a "panga-type vessel," a small fishing boat with an outboard motor, operating without any lights in the waters off the island, Johnson said.
The Coast Guard's 87-foot Halibut patrol boat was dispatched to the area.
As the Halibut neared the vessel, a smaller boat with the two officers was deployed to investigate the darkened vessel.
As the small boat approached with its blue light flashing, the suspect boat's driver suddenly accelerated.
The crew of the first boat quickly recovered the officers thrown overboard, while a 45-foot Coast Guard response boat pursued the fleeing panga.
Johnson said in the past year, Coast Guard patrols have seen a "surge" in drug smuggling activity using panga-style boats to ferry illegal drugs into southern California.
(Reporting By Chris Francescani ; Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Stacey Joyce)