I-85 fire witness: Suspect said ‘I did that’

A witness to the initial moments of a fire that caused the I-85 bridge collapse in Atlanta said the man charged with setting the blaze told her he did it.

“I ran into him by the dumpster and that black smoke was coming up,” Sophia Brauer told Mark Winne of 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.’”

Brauer and boyfriend Barry Andrew Thomas were staying under the bridge before it collapsed Thursday, the news station reported.

Aerial photo last Friday shows the portion of I-85 that collapsed after Thursday’s fire. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Bob Andres

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Credit: Bob Andres

She said she saw the suspect, Basil Eleby, put what she thought to be crack cocaine in a cart shortly before the fire, according to Channel 2. Brauer said Thomas saw Eleby put a sofa on top of a plastic shopping cart and then reach underneath.

Brauer said she later saw the sofa on fire.

“It was all burning,” she told Channel 2. “It was hot as hell. I'm talking about the Target cart was melting.”

She said the burning sofa was up against spools of tubing that were stored beneath the overpass.

“I was praying nobody died, you know?” Brauer said.

Investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Atlanta Fire Rescue and the state fire marshal’s office questioned her and Thomas for several hours, cited them for misdemeanor criminal trespass and let them leave the scene, Channel 2 reported.

Eleby is charged with arson and criminal damage to property and is in the Fulton County jail in lieu of $200,000 bond.

Eleby told authorities he left the area before the fire started.