Sunday, April 2, 2017

I-85 Arsonist Charged

BRIDGE COLLAPSE: Arson charge added for suspect, by: Mark Winne, Nefertiti Jaquez, Steve Gehlbach Updated: Apr 1, 2017 - 12:13 PM

ATLANTA - One suspect in connection to the Interstate 85 fire is facing an additional charge Saturday.

Basil Eleby, 40, is already facing first degree criminal damage to property and criminal trespassing charges. He has now been charged with arson. Eleby faced a judge Saturday in Fulton County. He walked into the courtroom with his face covered mostly by his hands, then by a folder from the public defender.

The arrest affidavit gives details of what he's accused of; it states he continues to say he left the area under the I-85 bridge before the fire started, that grew into a massive inferno and took down the interstate.

But statements from the couple he was with, now charged with only trespassing, say they were with Eleby to smoke crack and at one point watched Eleby "place a chair on top of a shopping cart, reach under the shopping cart and ignite it."

Eleby tried to wave the hearing and get no bond. The judge denied the request and then said this about trying to come up with a fair bond that would be in line with restitution for the damage done.

"But in this case that would amount to a couple hundred million dollars,” said Judge James Altman. “My second inclination on thinking about it, some kind of compensation to the victims is appropriate, but again, even at a dollar a person, that would amount to several million dollars." We'll have live coverage of the new developments on Channel 2 Action News at Noon.

The judge issued a total of $200,000 bond for Eleby; $100,000 for arson and $100,00 for criminal damage to property. Elebry’s preliminary hearing is set for April 14. Channel 2's Mark Winne learned one or more of the individuals involved may be transient. 

Channel 2 Action News has learned Eleby has been arrested several times before. He has been booked on charges including possession of marijuana and cocaine, criminal trespass, simple battery, and simple assault dating back to 1995.

·        Three people arrested in connection with fire that led to I-85 bridge collapse
·        One man still in custody 
·        GDOT says repairs to I-85 will take months

The massive blaze started at about 6:15 p.m. Thursday beneath I-85 northbound near Piedmont Road.

Channel 2's Nefertiti Jaquez tracked down the two officers who first spotted the fire. 
"We saw smoke coming from out underneath the bridge. As we got closer, that's when we noticed the spool of conduit fire," Atlanta police Officer Ryan Severance said. 
"It just kept getting worse and worse and worse," Officer Jean Hernandez said. 
No one was injured in the fire. "My main worry was the firefighters, because we know a lot of them and they were under there," Severance said.  The Georgia Department of Transportation said it was storing non-combustible, high-density plastic pipe underneath the bridge. 
Both northbound and southbound lanes of I-85, as well as several roads in northeast Atlanta, were closed for hours Thursday and into Friday.
GDOT said at least three sections northbound and three sections southbound will have to be totally replaced, which includes the section that collapsed.
Construction crews are working into the night and around the clock at the site of the collapse. GDOT said is will be all hands on beck throughout the weekend. 

ATLANTA, Georgia (WTVD) -- WSB-TV in Atlanta reports police have three people in custody after a huge fire under an I-85 overpass Thursday that caused part of the elevated highway to collapse.

The suspects were identified as Basil Eleby, Sophia Broner and Barry Thomas, Georgia Deputy Insurance Commissioner Jay Florence to ABC News. Eleby faces a charge of criminal damage to property, while Broner and Thomas each were charged with criminal trespass. They have not yet entered pleas.

According to Georgia Deputy Insurance Commissioner Jay Florence, the suspects allegedly lit the fire using material that were on site.

Two of the suspects were interviewed, leading to the arrest of the third, Florence said. They were being held at the Atlanta City Jail awaiting a bond hearing.

Atlanta residents may face a travel nightmare after a massive fire caused an overpass on Interstate 85 in the city to collapse, shuttering the major thoroughfare.

No injuries were reported and no cars were on the highway bridge when it fell during Thursday afternoon's rush hour, Atlanta Fire Department spokesman Sgt. Cortez Stafford said, according to The Associated Press. Fire officials said this afternoon that firefighters at the scene saved lives by recognizing cracks in the concrete and calling for an evacuation.

Georgia Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry said the fire started in an area used "as a storage location for construction materials, equipment and supplies. The site was a secured area containing materials such as PVC piping, which is a stable, noncombustible material."

Interstate 85 is a major thruway in the Atlanta metropolitan area, carrying 400,000 cars a day, according to the Department of Transportation. The highway's closure is expected to cause major headaches in this heavily car-dependent city.

Officials are still determining the extent of damage and said there is no set timeline for the repairs. McMurry said it will take "at least several months" to rebuild. He said about 350 feet of the northbound road as well as 350 feet of the southbound road will have to be totally removed and replaced. "That is no small feat, but we're up to the challenge," McMurry said at a news conference this afternoon.

Georgia Gov. 
Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency. The Federal Highway Administration Friday awarded $10 million in "quick release" funding to initiate the most critical repairs in the next few weeks.

The "funds are considered a down payment on the costs of short-term repairs now, which can make long-term repair work possible in the weeks ahead," the Department of Transportation said in a statement.

One driver described her commute Friday as "horrible." "It took me two hours to get out here this morning and then I had to come back out to take a friend to work," she told ABC News. "But that's life. What else can we do?" Another driver, Laura, told ABC News, "You have to make the best of it. If you get upset about it, it's just going to make your drive worse." "You can't change the situation," she added, "so just try to be polite to whoever is trying to get in and out and it'll make your drive home a whole lot easier."

Drivers are encouraged to shorten their trips and carpool with others, and Atlanta's public transportation system is stepping up rail and bus service, McMurry said. "We ask for your continued patience as we gather more information and details on the required repairs and reconstruction activities needed to bring this roadway back to operational levels," McMurry said.

ABC News' Janice McDonald and Dominick Proto and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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