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LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – A train engineer at the Port of Los Angeles was arrested Wednesday for allegedly derailing a locomotive at full speed near the USNS Mercy hospital ship being used to ease hospital beds during the coronavirus pandemic.
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.
The complaint filed in Los Angeles federal court states Moreno admitted to authorities in two separate interviews that he intentionally derailed and crashed the PHL train near the Mercy on Tuesday afternoon.
Prosecutors say Moreno was arrested sometime later and turned over to FBI agents early Wednesday morning.
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According to the complaint, Moreno ran the train off the tracks before crashing through a series of barriers, ultimately coming to rest more than 250 yards from the Mercy.
© Provided by CBS Los Angeles
There were no injuries and no damage to the Mercy was reported. The train leaked fuel that required a hazardous-materials cleanup.
Prosecutors say a a California Highway Patrol officer witnessed the crash before he took Moreno into custody as he fled the scene.
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.
According to court documents, Moreno allegedly told the CHP officer, “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.”
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During an initial interview with port police, prosecutors say 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.”
Moreno later stated in a second interview with FBI agents 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'”.
The affidavit states port police reviewed video footage from the train’s cab, which showed the locomotive clearly moving at a fast clip before crashing through several barriers and nearly hitting at least three cars.
A second video shows Moreno in the cab holding a lighted flare, the document alleges.
A spokesperson for the company which owns the train released a statement reading in part:
”Yesterday afternoon, we received word that at approximately 12:35, a PHL locomotive pulling a single rail car was traveling at a high rate of speed, and travelled off the end of a dead end track in the Port of Los Angeles. Thankfully there were no injuries. The engineer of the train has been arrested and charged, and we are fully cooperating with all authorities as they proceed with their investigation. PHL has resumed its normal operations in the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.”
The crash shouldn’t change operations at the Mercy in any way and patients are still being accepted, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday evening.
Moreno was expected to make his initial court appearance Wednesday afternoon.