LOS ANGELES (AP) — An train engineer who intentionally derailed a locomotive near a U.S. Navy hospital ship that was deployed in Los Angeles harbor to help during the COVID-19 pandemic pleaded guilty Thursday to committing a terrorist attack.
Eduardo Moreno, 45, who worked at the Port of Los Angeles, acknowledged in his plea agreement that on March 31, 2020, he drove a locomotive at full speed off the end of the tracks near where the Mercy was docked because he believed it might be involved in a sinister conspiracy, the U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement.
Nobody was hurt but the derailment caused about $700,000 in damages. The train also spilled fuel that required a hazardous-materials cleanup.
Moreno told port police that he was suspicious of the Mercy “and believed it had an alternate purpose related to COVID-19 or a government takeover,” the U.S. attorney’s office said, citing court documents.
Moreno said he knew the derailment would bring media attention and he wanted to “wake people up,” according to an affidavit filed with the criminal complaint.
The train smashed through concrete, steel and chain-link barriers and slid through a parking lot before coming to a stop about 250 yards (228 meters) from the Mercy, officials said.
Moreno said he acted alone and hadn’t planned the derailment in advance, prosecutors said.
Moreno could face up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced in March. However, prosecutors said they will seek a 6 1/2-year sentence and $700,000 in restitution to the Pacific Harbor Line railroad company.
The 1,000-bed Mercy, based at Naval Base San Diego, docked at the Port of Los Angeles in March 2020 to accept non-coronavirus patients to prevent local hospitals from being overwhelmed as cases surged.
However, the initial rise in hospitalizations wasn’t as severe as expected. The Mercy’s crew treated about 80 people before departing in mid-May.