NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – A man accused of deliberately starting a fire at a home in the West Ghent neighborhood of Norfolk had a court hearing Thursday morning.
Ryan Elza waived his right to a preliminary hearing. According to the Commonwealth’s Attorney, this move essentially says he believes there is probable cause to send his case to trial.
Police are investigating five suspicious fires on the same block in the West Ghent neighborhood in 16 months. Residents believe the fires are all connected. Elza is only charged with arson of an occupied dwelling in connection with the most recent fire at the McGee family’s home. The McGees are Elza’s neighbors. The family of four was inside their home when the fire broke out.
A handful of West Ghent residents, including victims of other fires on the block that remain unsolved, went to the preliminary hearing Thursday in support of the McGees.
The fire marshal said Elza’s arrest came after a joint investigation with the Norfolk Police Department into the series of suspicious fires. Elza is currently being held at the Norfolk City Jail.
When 10 On Your Side spoke with Elza from jail after his arrest, he maintained his innocence. 10 On Your Side confirmed Elza was a middle school teacher with Norfolk Public Schools at the time of his arrest. He told WAVY even if he is found not guilty, his life will be ruined. “Nobody is going to want to hire me. Nobody is going to want to have me as a teacher in their school division,” he said.
Elza was requesting a competency hearing, saying he was unfit to stand trial, but a doctor found him fit to stand trial.
Stay with WAVY News 10 on air and online for updates on this case.