On Tuesday afternoon, California Highway Patrol officer Dillon Eckerfield was rumbling down Harbor Avenue on his police motorcycle, in San Pedro, Calif., when he witnessed a strange sight: a freight train flying off the end of the tracks.
It didn’t even try to slow down. He watched it smash through the concrete and steel barriers at the track’s dead end, near the Port of Los Angeles. It crashed through a chain-link fence, careened through a parking lot and another gravel lot — barely missing three occupied vehicles — and then finally, after taking out another fence, came to a halt.
Roughly 800 feet ahead was the USNS Mercy, the Navy medical ship providing relief to hospitals overburdened with coronavirus patients — where police now believe the train’s engineer was intentionally headed.
Eckerfield pulled a U-turn, speeding in the direction of the spectacular train wreck, according to an FBI affidavit describing the incident. As he approached, he could see a man in a bright yellow fluorescent vest jump down from the train’s cab and start running. He was easy to follow. Eckerfield sped into the West Basin Container Terminal, an enormous ship cargo yard, and found the man in the yellow vest walking toward him. Eckerfield drew his weapon and ordered the man onto the ground.
Right away, as Eckerfield placed him under arrest, the suspect spilled out his story.
“You only get this chance once. The whole world is watching,” the suspect, later identified as Eduardo Moreno, told Eckerfield. “I had to. People don’t know what’s going on here. Now they will.”
Moreno, 44, was charged Wednesday in federal court with one count of train wrecking after admitting to intentionally running the train off the tracks in the direction of the Mercy hospital ship, the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles said in a statement. No one was injured in the wreck, which caused a “substantial fuel leak” handled by firefighters, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors say Moreno was “suspicious of the USNS Mercy,” believing officials were lying about its true purpose. He believed “it had an alternate purpose related to covid-19 or a government takeover,” they said.