3 Arrested in Connection to Fire that Caused Collapse of I-85

Posted: Mar 30, 2017 3:40 PM PDTUpdated: Apr 02, 2017 9:30 AM PDT

By Chris Price, Digital Content Producer & WGCL Digital Team

ANTA (CBS46) 

 

One of three people charged in connection to the fire that caused a portion of I-85 to collapse appeared in court Saturday morning.

Basil Eleby appeared in court and was charged with criminal damage and arson. His bond has been set at $200,000 and he is next expected to appear in court on April 14 at 9:30 a.m.

Sophia Brauer and Barry Thomas were also arrested Friday and were charged with trespassing.

Exclusive details prior to fire

A law enforcement source released exclusive details explaining what may have happened leading up to the fire.

According to what we uncovered late Friday, at least two of the three suspects in the case placed themselves at the scene, talking to police. 

Eleby says he was in the area under I-85 at Piedmont Road, a location he says he frequents on his way to and from work at a tire shop, according to the source.

Sometime around 4 p.m. Thursday, Eleby allegedly met up with the two other suspects, Thomas and Brauer, under the bridge. The trio allegedly talked about smoking crack, but Eleby reportedly told police he then left the area before the fire started.

But according to law enforcement, he also drew them a diagram specifically showing where a chair, shopping cart and barrels of wire were located, all of that being key the fire investigation.

Thomas' account differs from Eleby at a critical point. He reportedly told investigators that Brauer attempted to smoke crack, but was denied by Eleby so she decided to go to sleep. Thomas says he then watched Eleby put the chair on top of the shopping cart, reach under the cart and ignite it, according to the source. 

Thomas says at this point he woke Brauer up and the two of them left the scene in the opposite direction of the prime suspect, according to the source. 

Several months to repair I-85

Officials said it will take "several months" to repair the 700-feet of the roadway overpass that fell after the major fire started.

MARTA said that despite a 25 percent increase in ridership within hours, their services are handling the spike "extraordinarily well." They are also offering special commuting services -- in direct response to the incident -- throughout the end of next week.

GDOT officials warn to "back up your alternate plan with a second alternate plan." Spending more time to commute is now the "new norm" until the construction is complete.

State of emergency

Governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency Thursday night as a result of the fire and resulting collapse. The 2-alarm fire burned Thursday afternoon on I-85 near Georgia 400 in Atlanta.

Officials confirmed that no one was injured in the fire, though miles of cars were stopped on the bridge just yards from the collapsed section.

Eyewitnesses reported seeing some people getting out of their vehicles and leaving them on the road, opting to walk to nearby areas. 

At this point, the northbound lanes are completely shut down and traffic is being diverted onto other roadways. The southbound section of I-85 also sustained fire damage and will need to be replaced. GDOT says the extent of the fire damage requires massive reconstruction to ensure the safety of motorists.

Atlanta police said the fire burned piles of plastic wiring that is burning under the I-85 overpass near the Lindbergh MARTA station along Piedmont Rd. It wasn't immediately clear what caused the initial fire to break out.

GDOT said Friday the material belonged to the state and was on state property. Though the material burned was plastic, officials said there was no danger of particles in the air to the public. 

Witnesses said they saw people abandoning their vehicles on the roadway and opting to walk.

Atlanta Public Schools normal; DeKalb County Schools close

Atlanta Public Schools conducted business as normal on Friday, although officials said they did work on a transportation plan to make sure students in the north cluster could get to school. 

"We are asking that parents and guardians be patient as we strive to deliver the highest quality of service given these circumstances," Kimberly Green with APS said on the night of the incident. "We are asking staff to make arrangements to come in early to receive students."

DeKalb County Schools closed schools on Friday as a result of the collapse. They said they hoped taking their buses off the road would help relieve congestion. 

“With one day before Spring Break begins, the prudent decision is to keep students at home, and not contribute to difficult travel conditions,” superintendent R. Stephen Green said on the day of the incident. 

The city of Atlanta and the Municipal Court of Atlanta both delayed their start of business Friday to 10 a.m. 

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves continued with their exhibition game against the New York Yankees at the new SunTrust Park Friday night. 

Deal: Company that built overpass responding

Governor Nathan Deal said officials have called the company that originally built the bridge to assess the damage.

It wasn't immediately clear how long it would take to repair the damage.

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