Atlanta authorities have charged the man accused of starting the massive fire that brought down a well-traveled portion of I-85 Thursday, March 30, costing the city millions of dollars in damages and wreaking havoc on already nightmarish traffic.
Basil Eleby, a 39-year-old homeless man, was charged with first-degree arson in connection with the fire during a court appearance on Saturday, April 1, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Judge James Altman added the arson charge on top of a previous felony charge of criminal damage to property. Bond was set at $200,000, although Altman said that he had considered a heftier amount more on par with the extensive damage caused.
“But in this case, that would amount to hundreds of millions of dollars,” the judge said.
News of the charges brought against Eleby and two others, Sophia Brauer and Barry Thomas, have since triggered more questions than answers about the Atlanta man’s role in Thursday’s highway blaze. According to a court affidavit, Eleby met up with the two others and discussed “smoking crack cocaine together” before reportedly setting the fire. People aren’t buying that story, though.
“Now, I’ve heard some far-out sh-t in my day … but this sh-t here, tho?!?!” Atlanta rapper T.I. wrote in an Instagram post Saturday, noting that “something” just doesn’t add up about the report. “In all my experiences wit crack &/or crackheads, I ain’t NEVER seen nothing like this sh-t!!!”
Several others took to social media over the weekend to voice their suspicions over the fire that caused the I-85 bridge to collapse. Many argued authorities should be pointing the finger at the city and state DOT for storing flammable PVC piping under the bridge in the first place. Rather than take the blame, critics suggested that city officials used Eleby as a scapegoat to cover their own behinds — specifically someone who didn’t have the power nor resources to fight the charges against him.
Ima say this and ima end mine but game recognize game. pic.twitter.com/oT07gGyQCm
— Ryan Cameron (@ryancameron) April 2, 2017
Atlanta want us to believe a crackhead…. high on crack…. Managed to damage and collapse the overpass. I ain't buying it.
— Ariel (@arigold_88) April 1, 2017
Them: "A crackhead burned down a bridge smoking them crack rocks! Believe Us!"
Everybody that's ever met a crackhead: pic.twitter.com/gn2pEvpgbS
— JDB, Sr. (@JoeBriggsEsq) April 3, 2017
Brauner and Thomas were charged with criminal trespass on Friday, March 31, in connection with the fire. Their account of what happened under the bridge the day before greatly differed from Eleby’s, however.
The Atlanta man told investigators he ultimately decided to “consume the drugs by himself” and “left the area before the fire started.” But, Thomas claimed he watched Eleby put “a chair on top of a shopping cart … reach under the cart and ignite it,” according to court documents released Sunday. Thomas told authorities he and Brauner then ran in the opposite direction of Eleby.
The bridge on I-85 northbound near Ga. 400 and Piedmont Road went down around 7 p.m. Thursday evening as fire crews fought to extinguish the blaze reportedly set by the Atlanta man. No injuries to motorists or emergency workers were reported.
There’s no word on how long it will be before that stretch of interstate is repaired, but city officials say it could take several months. Frequent commuters have since been forced to find alternates to school and work, exacerbating the city’s traffic woes.
Eleby’s next court appearance is set for April 14.