More charges brought against teacher accused of starting Ghent fire

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Posted at 4:47 PM, Nov 05, 2021
and last updated 2022-03-15 22:32:58-04

NORFOLK, Va. - News charges have been brought against a Norfolk teacher accused of setting fire to a home with people inside.

Forty-two-year-old Ryan Elza is charged with setting fire to a car in the West Ghent area of Norfolk in June. The fire spread to a home with a family inside.

Court officials said Friday that there are five new charges against Elza, who was direct-indicted on Wednesday. Those are, two felony destruction of property (for both cars involved in the June 2021 fire), one maliciously burning personal property belonging to another individual (from a 2020 car fire incident), two arsons of occupied dwellings (from two separate 2011 incidents).

In September Elza was set for a preliminary hearing, but that didn't go as planned. Elza waived his right to a preliminary hearing after a handful of fire investigators were set to present evidence.

Although video surveillance shows Elza walking around with an accelerant on the night of June 11, during a jailhouse interview with News 3 in July, he said he was simply cooking hot dogs and denied burning the car and home of Patrick and Tiffany McGee.

Elza previously revealed to a court psychologist he is being treated for bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing a child burn to death in a car crash five years ago, court documents said.

Elza expressed to the psychologist that he had homicidal ideation toward his cellmates in jail, and requested to be segregated for safety.

He reports that he has a constant "whispering in his head," and admitted to struggling with alcoholism and cocaine abuse.

After a lengthy evaluation, the psychologist found Elza competent to stand trial. He remains in custody at the Norfolk City Jail.

On March 15, 2022, in Norfolk Circuit Court, Elza's attorney motioned for an evaluation of sanity at the time of the offense, which the judge granted. A mental examination is scheduled for May 25, 2022.

Related: Norfolk teacher accused of starting fire that spread to home in West Ghent denied bond