Freeway bridge fire witness: Suspect said 'I did that'

By: Steve Burns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSBTV.com

Updated:

A witness to the initial moments of a fire that caused the I-85 bridge collapse in Atlanta said the man charged with setting the blaze told her he did it.

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“I ran into him by the dumpster and that black smoke was coming up,” Sophia Brauer told Mark Winne of WSB-TV. “I said, ‘Oh my God, Basil, look at that!’

“He looked at me. He gave this evil smile and said, ‘Ha, ha, ha. I did that.’”

Brauer and her boyfriend, Barry Andrew Thomas, were staying under the bridge before it collapsed Thursday, the news station reported.

She said she saw the suspect, Basil Eleby, put what she thought was crack cocaine in a plastic shopping cart shortly before the fire, according to WSB-TV. Brauer said Thomas saw Eleby put a sofa on top of the cart and then reach underneath it.

Brauer said she later saw the sofa on fire.

“It was all burning,” she told WSB-TV. “It was hot as hell. I'm talking about the Target cart was melting.”

She said the burning sofa was up against spools of tubing that were stored beneath the overpass.

“I was praying nobody died, you know?” Brauer said.

Investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Atlanta Fire Rescue and the state fire marshal’s office questioned Brauer and Thomas for several hours, cited them for misdemeanor criminal trespass and let them leave the scene, WSB-TV reported.

Eleby is charged with arson and criminal damage to property and is in the Fulton County jail in lieu of $200,000 bond.

Eleby told authorities he left the area before the fire started.

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