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

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Posted at 4:09 PM, Jul 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-12 17:20:38-04

NORFOLK, Va. - Forty-two-year-old Ryan Elza was back in court Monday. He was arrested earlier this month and charged with arson after a number of suspicious fires in the West Ghent area of Norfolk.

Elza is charged with setting fire to a car that spread to the home of Tiffany and Pat McGee, who live on Claremont Avenue, on June 11.

In court Monday, the state attorney said Elza used a bag of charcoal and accelerant to light the fire to the car, which spread to the home while the family was inside.

"This could have killed an entire family," said the Commonwealth's attorney.

The state spelled out how they believe that fire was caused by an ongoing tiff between Elza and the McGee family. The Commonwealth connected several dots of suspicious fires that have been plaguing that area for months.

They say it started in May, when Patrick McGee approached Elza about an abandoned car parked in front of his home.

The two got into an argument about it; the state said Elza was drunk and angry and the police were called.

Just a few weeks later on June 2, that abandoned car was found burning. Elza told police Patrick McGee set it on fire. It was later determined the McGee family was out of town.

The state told the judge Monday that Elza was caught on security cameras holding charcoal and a lighter in the June 11 incident for which he was arrested, but Elza said he is innocent and was just cooking hot dogs.

"The things they said I had on video are things that are very common people have in summertime, like cooking on a grill, so it doesn't prove anything," Elza told News 3 from jail last week.

Elza's wife also testified. She told the court she was the victim of a fire, too, when he car was set on fire June 3. She also said she has been receiving threatening phone calls since her husband's arrest.

"A guy is calling, saying his name is George and that he will give me $10,000 in reward money if I testify and tell him what happened," she said.

Elza's attorney stated that he has been receiving medication for mental health issues while in jail, and that he needed to be let out because he has a young baby, and also has an alternate place to stay if he didn't want to stay near where the fires occurred.

Ultimately, the judge denied Elza bond.

The state's attorney said he is a flight risk, a threat to the West Ghent community, has a substance abuse problem, and told the court that Elza was also suspected in a serious of suspicious fires 10 years ago in another area of Norfolk. The state's attorney said he fled to Arizona when being questioned about those incidents.

Elza was, however, arrested in 2011 for a misdemeanor after a run-in with first responders.

"I guess you could say it was a misunderstanding. There was a fire in a detached garage at home with my parents … I ran around the corner, and there were a bunch of firefighters there and they thought I was going to do something like run into the fire - I don’t know what they thought I was going to do," Elza explained from jail last week. "They try to grab onto me and we got into a pushing-shoving match, kind of yelling at them, 'Stay away from me! Get off me!' and then I went back at my house and I got arrested for that."

The investigation remains ongoing, and officials say more charges could be forthcoming. Investigators are also examining the arson cases from years ago.

Elza is due back in court on September 30.