Homeless man charged in Atlanta highway bridge fire

ATLANTA - A homeless man with a lengthy arrest record was charged with arson Saturday in connection with a fiery explosion that triggered the dramatic collapse of a bridge along a heavily traveled section of Interstate 85 in Atlanta.

The arson charge was added to an earlier charge of first-degree criminal damage to property following the arrest of Basil Eleby. He was ordered held on $200,000 bond.

Fulton County jail records show Eleby has been in and out of jail numerous times on drug, assault and trespass charges. Eleby’s next court appearance was set for April 14.

Deputy Insurance Commissioner Jay Florence earlier said two other people, Sophia Bruner and Barry Thomas, had been charged with criminal trespass. “We believe they were together when the fire was set and Eleby is the one who set the fire,” Florence told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Florence would not discuss how the fire was started or why, saying those details would be released as the investigation progresses.

WXIA reported Bruner and Thomas were detained but not arrested. Authorities believe the three are homeless and were living in the vicinity of the fire, Glen Allen, spokesman for the state Fire Marshal's Office, told WXIA.

There were no deaths or injuries in the explosion and fire, but the bridge collapse severed the vital roadway that runs north-south through downtown Atlanta. The interstate carries 250,000 vehicles daily, Georgia transportation commissioner Russell McMurry told USA TODAY.

The fire took place in a storage area underneath the bridge that crosses over Piedmont Road. Miles of the road will be shut down for months for repairs, prompting Gov. Nathan Deal to declare a state of emergency.

Contributing: Bart Jansen, and Sean Rossman; The Associated Press

© 2017 USA TODAY


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