Bail was denied Friday for a Port of Los Angeles train engineer charged with running a locomotive at full speed off the end of rail tracks near the USNS Mercy hospital ship, claiming the vessel was docked at the port for nefarious purposes.
During a brief hearing, Eduardo Moreno was ordered detained pending trial after a federal magistrate judge determined that the 44-year-old San Pedro man posed a danger to the community, as well as a flight risk.
Moreno was not in court because he waived his appearance at certain court hearings. His attorney did not oppose the government’s motion for detention. Moreno is expected to be arraigned in Los Angeles federal court on May 7.
He is charged in a criminal complaint with one federal count of train wrecking, which carries a potential sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Moreno was arrested Tuesday and turned over to FBI agents early Wednesday morning.
According to the criminal complaint, Moreno admitted in two separate interviews with law enforcement authorities that he intentionally derailed and crashed the train near the Mercy on Tuesday afternoon.
Moreno ran the train off the end of tracks and crashed through a series of barriers before coming to rest more than 250 yards from the Mercy, prosecutors allege. No one was injured and the Mercy was not damaged. The train leaked fuel that required a hazardous materials cleanup.
The train crash was witnessed by a California Highway Patrol officer, who took Moreno into custody as he fled the scene, federal prosecutors said.
The CHP officer who witnessed the crash reported seeing “the train smash into a concrete barrier at the end of the track, smash into a steel barrier, smash into a chain-link fence, slide through a parking lot, slide across another lot filled with gravel and smash into a second chain-link fence,” according to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint.
When the CHP officer contacted Moreno, he made a series of spontaneous statements, including, “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,” according to court papers.
In his first interview with port police, Moreno admitted crashing the train, saying he was suspicious of the Mercy and believed it had an alternate purpose related to COVID-19, such as a “government takeover,” prosecutors said.
Moreno allegedly stated that he acted alone and had not pre-planned the attack. While admitting to intentionally derailing and crashing the train, he said he knew it would bring media attention and “people could see for themselves,” referring to the Mercy, according to the affidavit.
In a second interview with FBI agents, Moreno said that “he did it out of the desire to `wake people up,”’ according to the affidavit. “Moreno stated that he thought that the U.S.N.S. Mercy was suspicious and did not believe `the ship is what they say it’s for,”’ according to court documents.
The L.A. Port Police reviewed video recorded from the locomotive’s cab. One video shows the train clearly moving at a high rate of speed before crashing through various barriers and coming into close proximity to three occupied vehicles. A second video shows Moreno in the cab holding a lighted flare, according to the affidavit.
The Mercy docked at the port on March 27. Its 1,000 hospital beds are to be used as a relief valve for Southland hospitals overrun with coronavirus patients. The hospital ship will not treat any COVID-19 patients.