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Engineer gets 3 years for derailing train near Navy hospital ship in early days of pandemic

A federal judge accepted Moreno had suffered a psychotic episode and hadn't planned a terrorist attack.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A train engineer was sentenced to three years in prison for intentionally derailing a train near a Navy hospital ship in San Pedro, California, because he believed it was part of a government conspiracy to get rid of healthy, open-minded people.

Eduardo Moreno, 46, pleaded guilty this past December to having committed a terrorist attack against a railroad carrier. He admitted he intentionally derailed the train near where the USNS Mercy was docked two years ago. The hospital ship had come to help alleviate the pressure on LA-area hospitals in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The derailment caused more than $700,000 in damage.

After his arrest, Moreno told law enforcement that he was suspicious of the hospital ship and that he wanted to draw attention to it because he believed the ship had an alternate purpose related to the pandemic or a government takeover. He also said he believed the government was going to take, healthy open-minded people on the ship to get rid of them.

“You only get this chance once,” Moreno told California Highway Patrol officer Dillon Eckerfield, who was at the scene of the crash, according to court papers. “The whole world is watching. I had to. People don’t know what’s going on here. Now they will.”

At a sentencing hearing Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez disagreed with the prosecution that a terrorism enhancement applied in the case. The government had sought a 77-month prison term based on this enhancement, arguing that Moreno had wanted to influence and to retaliate against the official response to the pandemic.

Moreno's lawyer Edward Robinson argued Moreno's statements after his arrest weren't evidence of a calculated plan to retaliate against government policies, but instead demonstrated that he was in the middle of a psychological breakdown. Moreno suffered from untreated bipolar affective disorder and was suffering an episode of mania at the time of the incident, according to a psychological report cited by his lawyer.

"Both the psychological report as well as the probation office have found that Mr. Moreno has recovered from his psychotic episode, is on medication, and is no longer drinking the copious amounts of caffeine which may have contributed to the psychosis," Robinson said in a April 5 court filing.

The judge also ordered Moreno to pay $755,880 in restitution.

Moreno drove the train at over 40 miles per hour down the wrong direction of the track while pulling a cargo container. Moments before derailing the train, Moreno pointed his middle finger to the train's internal camera and lit a road flare inside the cabin, according to the government.

No one at the port was injured in the crash and the Mercy was not damaged, but the fire department had to clean up 2,000 gallons of spilled diesel fuel from the wrecked locomotive.

The train’s momentum pushed it through a concrete barrier, a steel wall, a chain link fence and past two lots into yet another chain-link fence, according to the criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

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