ATLANTA, Ga – A man suspected of starting the fire which caused an I-85 bridge to collapse has been charged with arson and criminal damage to property in the first degree, both felonies.
Basil Eleby made his first court appearance on late Saturday morning, as several Midtown streets were in gridlock as drivers attempted to navigate around portions of I-85 that were closed.
Thus far, Eleby, who is in the Fulton County Jail on $200,000 bond, is the only person charged in connection with the fire. His next court date is April 14.
According to the Atlanta Fire Department, two other people -- Sophia Bruner and Barry Thomas -- were detained but not arrested.
With a shake of his head and a hand gesture, Fulton County magistrate Judge Jim Altman called for Eleby to enter the hearing room. Eleby’s motion to waive his right to a hearing had been denied. It was his first appearance in court since the alleged crime.
His attorney shielded his face with a green manila folder, an attempt to hide him from the media.
“You have the right to remain silent,” Altman said. “The facts on the warrant on the criminal damage are sufficient for both charges.”
According to the warrant, Eleby allegedly smoked crack cocaine under the bridge before he placed “a chair on top of a shopping cart, [reached] under that shopping cart and ignited it.”
Altman considered setting bond commensurate to the damage caused, which he said would probably be a couple hundred million dollars.
“My second inclination, thinking about it, was that some compensation to the victims would be appropriate,” Altman said. “But again, even at a dollar a person, that would amount to several million dollars,” he said.
Fulton jail records show Eleby had been arrested 19 times before for drug, battery, assault and other charges. An April 2014 mugshot shows Eleby after he was arrested for charges related to the sale and trafficking of cocaine.
Other developments on Saturday:
The Georgia DOT said it is following “an aggressive schedule” to replace the I-85 bridge that collapsed in Midtown on Thursday. Demolition work has begun will continue through next week.
In the meantime, the northbound lanes of I-85 beginning near the Peachtree Road overpass have been reconfigured to allow for two travel lanes to continue northbound up to the Buford-Spring Connector for local traffic only.
Cheshire Bridge Road seemed to be the most heavily trafficked surface street closest to the bridge collapse, with gridlock-like conditions reported as early as 9 am.