Just one week after a fire led to the I-85 bridge collapse, a grand jury indicted the man officials say caused it all on felony arson and criminal damage to property charges, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office said.
Basil Eleby faces 25 years in prison and a $50,000 fine in the March 30 fire if he is convicted, Fulton County district attorney spokesman Dontaye Carter said. Two witnesses to the fire, Sophia Brauer and Barry Andrew Thomas, were cited for criminal trespass.
Eleby, 39, told fire officials he had met with Brauer and Thomas about 4 p.m. under the bridge to talk about smoking crack cocaine. But according to an affidavit filed by the fire department lieutenant, Eleby decided to smoke the drugs himself and left before the fire started.
Brauer and Thomas told authorities Eleby placed a chair inside a shopping cart and setting it on fire. The flames spread to high-density plastic conduit stored under the bridge by the Georgia Department of Transportation.
“I ran into him by the dumpster and that black smoke was coming up,” Brauer told Channel 2 Action News. “I said, ‘Oh my God, Basil, look at that!’
“He looked at me. He gave this evil smile and said, ‘Ha, ha, ha. I did that.’”
Eleby was arrested March 31, just 24 hours after the collapse. His attorney Liz Markowitz said her client has been a scapegoat since his arrest and has been working to form a team of lawyers to represent Eleby.
“I have dedicated my entire career to protecting indigent clients who are human beings and not causes,” Markowitz said Tuesday.
He remains in the Fulton County jail on a $200,000 bond. He is scheduled to appear in court April 14.
Eleby could face federal charges pending the outcome of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’s investigation. Officials do not have a timetable on when their investigation will be complete.
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