Suspect In I-85 Fire May Have Admitted Starting Blaze
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is reporting today that the suspect in the I-85 overpass collapse admitted to a witness that he started it. The witness to the fire told news outlets that she saw black smoke rising. She turned toward the man now charged with the arson and exclaimed that there was a fire. According to the witness, the man authorities allege started the fire looked toward the witness and let out an "evil" laugh and said that he was responsible.
According to the newspaper, the woman was homeless and sought refuge under the overpass. The woman claimed to have observed the man police charged put crack cocaine in a shopping cart. The man allegedly placed a sofa or other flammable piece of furniture on top of the cart. The man then reached under the shopping cart and ignited the fire. Sometime after that, she saw the sofa on fire. The fire grew so hot that she saw the shopping cart beginning to melt. The witness related to media outlets that the shopping cart ended up near plastic tubing stored underneath the overpass. The sofa was burning up against the plastic tubing.
Numerous law enforcement agencies responded to the scene to assist the criminal investigation. In addition to local and state police, special agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives assisted in the inquiry and spoke with the witness. State fire marshals and Atlanta Fire Rescue investigators also interviewed the witness and assisted with the investigation. Police have cited the witness and her boyfriend with criminal trespass. Police allowed them to leave the scene.
As a result of the investigation, law enforcement officials have charged a 39-year-old man with first-degree arson, first-degree criminal damage, as well as criminal trespass. The judge set bond in the amount of $200,000. Before settling on that figure, the judge stated that he considered setting a bond amount much higher and commensurate with the potential cost of the repairs. The judge balked saying that he would have to set bond amounting to "hundreds of millions of dollars." According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the man was smoking crack cocaine before the blaze. His public defender asked the judge to grant him permission to skip the bail hearing. The judge denied the request. Once in the courtroom, his attorney tried to conceal his face from cameras in the courtroom by holding a file folder in front of him.
The man investigators charged in connection with the I-85 burning has appeared in criminal court before. He has had 19 court appearances since 1995, most concerning drug possession and other narcotics activity. The charges he is currently facing are significantly more severe than those with which he was previously charged.
The man made a statement to investigators about the incident. He told them that he and the two witnesses planned on smoking crack cocaine together. He told police that instead of following through on their plan, he left the area before the fire started and consumed the drugs elsewhere. The witnesses' statements to investigators contradict his version of events.
Crews are working around the clock to clear that area and begin making repairs. The northbound section of I-85 that collapsed was approximately 350 feet long. However, 700 feet of highway comprised of six sections must be replaced and rebuilt, which includes the northbound and southbound lanes.
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