USNS Mercy in Los Angeles
The USNS Mercy in Los Angeles. Navy photo

A detention hearing is set 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.

Eduardo Moreno, 44, of San Pedro, was 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, who is in federal custody, waived his right to be present at the hearing in which a magistrate judge will decide whether the defendant can be released on bond or whether he must remain behind bars pending trial.

Moreno was arrested Tuesday afternoon and turned over to FBI agents early Wednesday morning. He is expected to be arraigned May 7.

According to the criminal complaint filed in Los Angeles federal court, 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 allegedly 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 allegedly 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 allegedly stated 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, according to the affidavit. 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, the document alleges.

The Mercy docked at the port last Friday. Its 1,000 hospital beds are being used as a relief valve for Southland hospitals overrun with coronavirus patients. The hospital ship is not treating any COVID-19 patients.

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