Basil Eleby will not be 'scapegoat' for I-85 fire, defense team says

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ATLANTA - The legal team and local activists representing an arson suspect accused of starting a massive fire that led to the collapse of an Interstate 85 bridge spoke out for the first time on Friday.

Channel 2's Nicole Carr learned that Basil Eleby will plead not guilty. 

The suspect's new team of defense and civil rights attorneys said Basil is being used as a scapegoat. 

They claim Eleby is being treated unfairly and punished unjustly, Francys Johnson, president of Georgia’s NAACP, said.

“Basil Eleby could be your son, your brother, your uncle, your father,” Johnson said.

The team said they will hold Georgia’s Department of Transportation responsible for the fire.

The coalition warned the public against passing judgment on Eleby as they gathered on the steps of the Fulton County courthouse Friday at 11 a.m. 


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They have also started crowdfunding their investigation into GDOT through a new website called BasilEleby.org. 

Team Basil is also asking for tipsters including GDOT employees to contact them with information regarding the case. 

Johnson mentioned that there are 2,000 homeless people in Atlanta who sleep in random places around the city like Eleby does.

A grand jury indicted Eleby last week on arson and criminal damage to property charges.

Police said he was doing drugs under the bridge and then lit a shopping cart on fire with a chair on top of it, according to a key witness who had met with Eleby before the fire.

[ATLANTA BRIDGE COLLAPSE: Live traffic map, alternate routes, MARTA parking tracker, more]

According to a document, Eleby has maintained he left the area before the fire started.

Reconstruction on the bridge is expected to be complete by or before mid-June.