A woman died after the Coast Guard chased and captured a speedboat carrying 31 Cuban migrants and three suspected immigrant smugglers about 4 miles off the coast of Boca Chica, Florida, on Saturday, the Coast Guard said.
The incident began about 6:30 a.m. when the Coast Guard gave chase to a "grossly overloaded" 36-foot boat, moving fast and without proper navigational lights, according to a Coast Guard statement. It was about 39 miles south of Key West.
The boat's driver ignored numerous orders to stop and tried to ram a pursuing Coast Guard boat more than five times, forcing the Coast Guard to fire at its three engines, the statement said.
"A crewman from one of the two pursuing Coast Guard boats applied two shots of disabling fire to the engines of the fleeing vessel to finally stop it and rescue the migrants," the statement said.
The Coast Guard said no one was injured by the gunfire.
Once aboard the ship, the Coast Guard crew found a woman with severe facial bruises and head injuries. She was evacuated to Key West for medical attention but died en route, authorities said. She was pronounced dead at 8:34 a.m.
An autopsy is planned for Sunday, and the Coast Guard will release results, according to Michael Hunter, chief medical examiner for Monroe County, Florida.
"This was a horrific voyage for these migrants and has resulted in a tragedy," Capt. Phil Heyl, commander of Coast Guard Sector Key West, said in a statement. "The family and friends of the dead woman have our deepest sympathy."
Other migrants on the boat, including a pregnant woman and three men, also received medical attention.
Heyl blamed the injuries on the "ruthless smugglers," who speeded an overloaded boat through the choppy water.
"There was no way for these people to brace themselves against the impact of the boat slamming into the rough seas," Heyl said in the statement.
The U.S. Attorney's office is reviewing the incident.