I-85 Collapse: Does The Blame For The Collapse All Lay At On One Man?
Law enforcement officials have charged a 39-year-old homeless man with first-degree arson for allegedly starting the fire that caused the I-85 roadway disaster. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is now reporting that the man's attorney, who is from the public defender's office, believes her client has been wrongfully and unfairly singled out as being solely responsible for all of the damage caused by the fire.
On Friday, the day after the fire and roadway collapse, investigators sought an arrest warrant for 39-year-old Bail Eleby. Law enforcement officers charged Eleby with first-degree arson, first-degree criminal damage, and criminal trespass. He remains held in lieu of posting $200,000 bond set last Saturday at his initial court appearance. Eleby is scheduled to reappear in court on April 14.
Eleby's public defender claims he is being turned into a scapegoat for the disaster. The attorney did not elaborate in greater detail on what she meant by that comment. While he may not be popular with the general public right now, many lawyers are coming to his defense to represent him free-of-charge, perhaps in conjunction with his public defender. Meanwhile, Eleby continues to be held in the Fulton County jail.
The evidence made public to this point strongly suggests Eleby was the primary cause of the fire. According to new sources including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, two witnesses identified Eleby as the person who placed on old sofa into a plastic shopping cart. He allegedly lit the sofa on fire. A news report from earlier this week indicated that he admitted to starting the blaze and even chuckled when confronted with the situation by one of the witnesses.
Based upon what has been published, the case appears to be a very strong one for law enforcement and prosecutors. The case is not tried in the newspapers, however. Cases are tried in court, before judges and juries. Eleby, despite how utterly unpopular he may be in the public's eye right now, is entitled to every Constitutional protection guaranteed to all persons charged with a crime in the United States. Notwithstanding the charges and the severe effects of the damage to I-85, Eleby is entitled to due process of law, just like every other person.
The outcome of the trial depends on many factors, and the result is far from certain at this point. Eleby's attorneys may try to point at a different cause for the collapse even if the proof suggests that Eleby started the fire in the shopping cart. For example, the defense might ask the jury to infer that the two witnesses actually committed the crime and pinned it on Eleby. The defense may also argue that the PVC piping stored under the overpass played a substantial role in the fire and that the collapse was not foreseeable.
It is important to not pre-judge the case. Eleby may choose to be tried to be a jury of his peers. That means average Atlanta-area citizens may be called upon by the Court to listen to the evidence and then decide whether he is guilty or not guilty. The jury's decision may only be made after listening to the evidence in the courtroom. Evidence comes from the witness stand exclusively, and jurors may not consider any other source of information.
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