Teacher accused of starting car fire that spread to West Ghent home waives right to preliminary hearing

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Posted at 2:53 PM, Sep 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-30 17:17:16-04

NORFOLK, Va. - A Norfolk teacher accused of setting fire to a home with people inside was in the courtroom Thursday.

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.

According to the property's owner, James Jones, multiple suspicious fires happened in the area over two years, but no one has been arrested.

Thursday, 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.

Fresh court documents reveal an interesting history about the school teacher in a competency evaluation.

Elza, who also served in the United States Army, 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.

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.

This case will now go before a grand jury in November.

The McGees told News 3 today that they are happy Elza will remain in jail.