A train engineer at the Port of Las Angeles was arrested on Tuesday after he deliberately derailed a train and crashed it near the Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy over his suspicions that the ship was part of a government takeover, according to a Justice Department statement about the incident.

Eduardo Moreno, 44, of San Pedro, California, was charged with one count of train wrecking over the incident. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.

Thankfully, nobody was injured in the incident, which occurred when the train, traveling at high speed, crashed through a concrete barrier at the end of the track, smashed into a steel barrier, and plowed through a chain-link fence before sliding through a parking lot and then across a gravel-filled lot.

The wrecked locomotive immediately started leaking fuel that later had to be cleaned up by hazardous materials personnel.

Moreno reportedly fled the scene and was quickly apprehended by a California Highway Patrol officer.

Navy photo

Upon his apprehension, Moreno made a series of “spontaneous statements” to the officer, 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,” reads to the DOJ statement.

In two separate interviews with the Los Angeles Port Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Moreno admitted to intentionally derailing and crashing the train near the Mercy.

Moreno said that he was suspicious of the Mercy, and believed it had “an alternate purpose related to COVID-19 or a government takeover,” federal authorities said in the statement. 

Moreno told investigators that he acted alone and that the incident had not been pre-planned, and that believed the crash would bring media attention and would “wake people up.”

The Navy hospital ship was docked at the port to help treat non-COVID-19 patients as a way to take pressure off local hospitals amidst the pandemic which has spread across the globe, infecting more than 216,000 people and resulting in more than 5,000 deaths in the United States alone, according to data from Johns Hopkins.

“With respect to the train incident, there was certainly no impact to the Mercy whatsoever, if you’ll forgive the use of the word,” the ship’s commanding officer Navy Capt. John Rotruck said on Thursday. “It happened well outside of our fence line.”

“In terms of security: The Department of Defense and the Navy always have a force self-protection posture and they’ll continue to maintain that and adjust as needed if there is a concern,” Rotruck told reporters during a Pentagon news conference.  

“With respect to misinformation, I’m not personally aware of any misinformation campaign with respect to the mission that we’re doing here,” Rotruck added.

Moreno was held overnight on charges, and was turned over to the FBI on Wednesday. The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Port of Los Angeles Police are leading the investigation.

Task & Purpose Pentagon correspondent Jeff Schogol contributed to this report.