Exclusive: I-85 arson suspect will remain in drug treatment program

- A Fulton County judge ruled Thursday that the homeless man accused of starting a fire that collapsed a portion of I-85 can remain in a drug treatment program and stay out of jail.

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The ruling by Superior Court Judge Constance Russell after authorities with Pre-Trial Services requested an arrest warrant for Basil Eleby after he failed a drug test.

The judge issued her ruling after she ordered another drug test for Eleby, and he tested negative.

If Eleby had tested positive, his bond would have been revoked and he would have been sent back to jail.

Defense Attorney Mawuli David said Eleby previously tested positive for drug use while in rehab on 2 separate occasions but has changed facilities to get his addiction under control.

Eleby, who’s charged with arson and criminal damage to property, has been in an addiction treatment facility since his release from the Fulton County Jail in April.

After the hearing, Eleby told FOX 5’s Aungelique Proctor in an exclusive interview he let a lot of people down by failing the earlier drug test, and he is disappointed himself.

Eleby said he has been addicted to drugs for 15 years, and breaking the addiction is hard.

In court, Judge Russell told Eleby, "If you flunk a drug test again, your bond will be revoked."

RELATED: First rush hour commute since reopening of I-85

The March fire caused a section of the interstate to collapse, crippling traffic in both directions of the busy highway. The damage was so extensive that crews had to repair the interstate in both directions.

I-85 reopened about six weeks later, more than a month ahead of the original completion date of June 15.

Following the bridge collapse, the fire department located 39-year-old Sophia Brauer and 57-year-old Barry Andrew Thomas. While conducting interviews with the two individuals in conjunction with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Thomas stated he witnessed Eleby set a chair on fire after he placed it on top of a shopping cart. Investigators concluded that initial fire led to the collapse of the I-85 bridge.

Authorities located Eleby and said he had talked about smoking crack prior to the fire that broke under the I-85 bridge in an area where the state of Georgia stores noncombustible construction materials. He was subsequently arrested.

Eleby's attorneys pleaded not guilty in the high-profile case and have said he will not be used as a scapegoat.
On April 19, Eleby was released from jail. He was granted a $10,000 consent signature bond under a number of conditions.

Some of those conditions include: not violating any laws, having zero contact with any witnesses involved in the case, appearing in court when scheduled, not threatening any person or property, remaining 1,000 yards away from the I-85 crime scene except when accompanied by members of his defense team, remaining enrolled in treatment throughout the duration of the case, being subject to monthly drug screens through pretrial services and receiving gainful employment within 60 days after being released.

If convicted, Eleby could face 25 years in prison and up to a $50,000 fine.

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