A train engineer at the Port of Los Angeles is facing federal charges for allegedly charging a locomotive off tracks toward the USNS Mercy, which he suspected is tied to a government plot, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
Eduardo Moreno, 44, of San Pedro, was handed over to FBI agents Wednesday and charged with one count of train wrecking in Tuesday’s derailment, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.
Moreno admitted he purposefully ran the train off the end of its tracks at full speed near the hospital ship in two separate interviews, officials said.
He allegedly told investigators he believed the ship — which docked at the port last week to relieve strain on area hospitals during the coronavirus outbreak — had a secret purpose related to COVID-19 or a government takeover.
Moreno said he wanted to “wake people up” and hoped the derailment would get media attention so “people could see for themselves,” according to prosecutors.
The 1,000 bed ship became the largest hospital in L.A. when it docked last Friday. On Sunday it began boarding non-coronavirus patients, to free up space at other area hospitals.
Firefighters responded around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday to the port, where the train came to rest about 250 yards from the Mercy after crashing through a series of barriers. No injuries were reported, but it did trigger a fuel spill that prompted a hazardous materials cleanup.
Moreno tried to flee the scene but was detained by a California Highway Patrol officer who witnessed the incident, officials said.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the officer reported seeing the train smash through a concrete barrier, steel barrier and chain-link fence before sliding across a parking lot and lot filled with gravel, coming to rest against another chain-link fence.
The officer told investigators that when he spoke with Moreno, the suspect said things like, “You only get this chance once. The whole world is watching. I had to. People don’t know what’s going on here. Now they will.”
Moreno was later turned over to the L.A. Port police, who interviewed the engineer and searched his residence.
Video recovered from inside the train’s cab allegedly shows Moreno holding a lighted flare, as well as the train nearly careening into three occupied vehicles as it crashed.
Moreno told authorities that he acted alone and hadn’t plotted the move ahead of time, officials said.
The engineer is scheduled to make his first appearance in court Wednesday afternoon.
If convicted as charged, he could face up to 20 years in federal prison.
The FBI and L.A. Port police are continuing to investigate.