A man was arrested by federal authorities Wednesday morning in Los Angeles after he was detained Tuesday by local police for allegedly driving a train locomotive at full speed and derailing it by ramming it through barriers about 250 yards from where the USNS Mercy is docked for relief of hospitals in the COVID-19 Chinese coronavirus crisis. The man was reportedly holding a lit flare in the train’s cabin. In interviews with law enforcement, the man allegedly made comments that he was suspicious about the Mercy and a possible government takeover. The Mercy was not harmed in the incident.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California issued a press release with details.
A train engineer at the Port of Los Angeles was arrested this morning on federal charges for allegedly running a locomotive at full speed off the end of rail tracks near the USNS Mercy.
Eduardo Moreno, 44, of San Pedro, was charged today in a criminal complaint with one count of train wrecking as a result of an incident Tuesday afternoon.
According to the criminal complaint filed in United States District Court, Moreno admitted in two separate interviews with law enforcement authorities that he intentionally derailed and crashed the train near the Mercy.
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. No one was injured in the incident, and the Mercy was not harmed or damaged in any way. The incident did result in the train leaking a substantial amount of fuel oil, which required clean up by fire and other hazardous materials personnel.
The train crash was witnessed by a California Highway Patrol officer, who took Moreno into custody as he fled the scene. The Los Angeles Port Police then took custody of Moreno, conducted an interview and obtained permission to search his residence. The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Port of Los Angeles Police are now leading the investigation.
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.”
In his first interview with the Los Angeles Port Police, Moreno acknowledged that he “did it,” saying that he was suspicious of the Mercy and believing it had an alternate purpose related to COVID-19 or a government takeover, the affidavit states. Moreno stated that he acted alone and had not pre-planned the attempted 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 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.’”
The Los Angeles 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.
Moreno was held overnight on local charges, and he was turned over to FBI agents this morning. Moreno is expected to make an initial appearance in federal court this afternoon.
A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The train wrecking charge alleged in the criminal complaint carries a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Reema M. El-Amamy, Christine M. Ro and William M. Rollins of the Terrorism and Export Crimes Section with support from Trial Attorney Taryn Meeks of the Counterterrorism Section at the Department of Justice’s National Security Division.