Who is Basil Eleby, the man accused of starting I-85 fire?

ATLANTA — The man accused of starting the fire that brought down an overpass bridge on Interstate 85 has an extensive past with law enforcement.

Basil Eleby, 39, was charged Saturday with first-degree arson in connection with the fire. Wearing a navy jumpsuit, flip-flops and handcuffs, Eleby reluctantly shuffled into a courtroom at the Fulton County jail for his first appearance hearing Saturday morning.

Basil Eleby

Judge James Altman announced the arson charge, which was added on top of an earlier felony charge of criminal damage to property, and set bond at $200,000. The judge said he had considered an amount more “commensurate” with the damage inflicted.

[Officials say I-85 bridge repairs will take months]

According to an affidavit by a fire department lieutenant, the suspect admitted to frequenting the area where the fire was set and acknowledged being there on Thursday afternoon at about the time the fire started.

Eleby and two others, Barry Thomas and Sophia Brauer, were charged Friday in connection with the fire. (Brauer earlier was identified by a different last name, but she was listed in the document released Saturday as “Brauer.” The discrepancy could not be resolved on Saturday.)

Demolition is underway on the section of I-85 that collapsed in a fire Thursday evening in Atlanta, Georgia, on Sunday, April 2, 2017. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

Eleby told investigators from the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that he’d met Thomas and Brauer there at about 4 p.m. and they “discussed smoking crack cocaine together.”

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But Eleby ultimately decided “he would consume the drugs by himself” and “left the area before the fire started,” according to the affidavit, which was prepared in support of Eleby’s arrest warrant.

Channel 2 Action News has been digging into Eleby's past. Jail records show Eleby has been in and out of jail at least 19 times since 1995. Charges range from drug possession, simple assault, battery and criminal trespass.

Eleby's next court appearance is scheduled for April 14.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this article.