ATLANTA, GA. - A homeless man charged with setting a fire that brought down a bridge on Atlanta's heavily traveled Interstate 85 was smoking crack cocaine at the time, a court document indicated Saturday.
Basil Eleby, 39, was arraigned on charges of first-degree arson and criminal damage to property. Eleby, who has a string of previous drug and assault arrests, according to Fulton County jail records, was held on $200,000 bond.
There were no deaths or injuries in the explosion and fire, but the bridge collapse Thursday 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.
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.
Eleby told officers that he encountered the two defendants beneath the bridge and "discussed smoking crack cocaine" but in the end decided “he would consume the drugs by himself” and “left the area before the fire started,” according to a criminal warrant presented to the magistrate court.
In the same warrant, obtained by the Journal-Constitution, officials said Thomas told them he saw Eleby place a chair on top of a shopping cart, reach under the shopping cart and ignite it.
Florence would not discuss how the fire was started or why, saying those details would be released as the investigation progresses.
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.
Contributing: Bart Jansen, and Sean Rossman; The Associated Press
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