I-85 Collapse, Day 3 | Bridge fire charged with arson; Midtown streets clogged

He now faces charges of arson and criminal destruction of property in the first degree

ATLANTA – A man suspected of starting the fire which caused an I-85 bridge to collapse has been charged with arson and and criminal damage to property in the first degree, both felonies.

Basil Elbey 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, Elbey, 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.

► Photos: Meet the suspect in the I-85 bridge fire

Other developments on Saturday:

Locals say they are surprised to find out that Eleby is believed to be behind the fire and eventual collapse of I-85 saying he was quiet and helped out at various businesses. Workers from two liquor stores said that he would come by to do odd jobs and wash windows.

► More: Man allegedly behind I-85 collapse described as quiet, helpful

Even so, there were many at local businesses who are already feeling the sting of gridlock as they try to deliver meals and pull customers into their shops and restaurants.  Unfortunately, local owners report that the threat of unusually heavy traffic is staving off even seasoned Atlantans from roads that have become main routes almost overnight like Cheshire Bridge.

More: Traffic jams on side roads killing profits for some local businesses

Others in the community are concerned that the problem may be more than financial. Residents said they saw emergency vehicles being hindered by the onslaught of traffic down side roads and secondary routes. But emergency officials in both Atlanta and DeKalb assured residents that they would find new ways to bypass traffic and provide emergency aid whenever needed.

More: Concerns mount over impact of I-85 collapse on emergency response

Meanwhile, 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.

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 a.m.

► More: DOT reconfiguring damaged interstate for Monday morning commute

Meanwhile, as tensions run high, some motorists are taking unnecessary risks. 11Alive caught an example live on television as a motorcyclist took to the sidewalk behind reporter Faith Abubey.  

► Video: Click here to see the collapse.

► List: Here a list of alternate routes

► Also: These roads are closed due to I-85 collapse

► Guide: How do I get around on MARTA?

Officials say 700 feet of the I-85 northbound and southbound lanes will have to be rebuilt. Local officials confirmed that $10 million in federal funds have been released to help pay for the repair and reconstruction of I-85 damaged by the collapse. 

Photos: 11Alive viewers capture I-85 fire

11Alive is committed to getting you the information you need to get about the I-85 collapse safely. We're sharing an ever-changing list of closed roads. We have the city's most experienced television traffic reporter. We have a network of hundreds of traffic cameras and live interactive maps.

Matt Yurus, field reporter and producer at WUSA9 contributed to this report.

© 2017 WXIA-TV


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