Atlanta Journal Constitution

Three Suspects Believed To Be Homeless Arrested For Atlanta I-85 Bridge Fire

Police are still looking into how and why the incident happened. 

Investigators are close to finding out what caused the fire that led to the collapse of Atlanta's Interstate 85 bridge with the arrest of three people on Friday (March 31).

The Atlanta Journal-Consitution reports Basil Eleby, 39, was charged with first-degree criminal damage to property and criminal trespass. Sophia Bruner and Barry Thomas were also arrested and charged with criminal trespass in connection to the fire. On Thursday (March 30), flames erupted from a portion of the bridge that serves as an easy route to reach midtown Atlanta. Police believe the suspects may be homeless with Eleby starting the fire that grew due to construction materials stored under the bridge. Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell R. McMurry explained that the materials under the bridge were designated for cabling and fire optics, but aren't flammable.

Authorities aren't aware if Eleby and the others lived under the bridge or if there was a motive behind the incident. Eleby is expected to appear in court Saturday (April 1) morning. No one was hurt in the blaze, but the north and southbound bridge was closed, leading to a bit of confusion and a lot of traffic.

The Georgia Department of Transportation told reporters construction to the bridge can take months. The Federal transportation officials have shelled out $10 million to start repairs, Governor Nathan Deal confirmed. Mayor Kasim Reid shared the city will look back on their 1996 Olympics hosting as a frame of reference to handle traffic.

As the case develops, Eleby can face more charges.

UPDATE: 4/1/207 2:59 PM EST 

During his bond hearing, Eleby shared his side of the story, which seems to be like a very crazy series of unfortunate events.

Eleby says he was walking under the bridge he normally crosses for work when he met Bruner and Thomas. The group “discussed smoking crack cocaine” but Eleby refused to share with the other two suspects. Bruner fell asleep, but Thomas watched Eleby started the fire by placing a chair on top of a shopping cart and igniting the fire from the bottom of the cart. When the flames arose, Bruner and Thomas fled in the opposite direction.

Eleby left before the fire started but suggested it wasn't close to the construction materials that helped spread the fire. He was additionally charged with arson and given a $20,000 bond.

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