PITTSBURGH (AP) – A man accused of starting a house fire that killed six people, including four children, but not the intended target waived his preliminary hearing Friday and must now stand trial on charges including arson and criminal homicide.
Allegheny County prosecutors contend Ryan Williams, 24, of McKeesport, was set on revenge when he illegally entered and torched Keith Egenlauf’s unlocked McKeesport home early on Oct. 18.
Investigators said Williams took money from a wallet in an upstairs bedroom and food from the refrigerator before tossing a burning roll of toilet paper on a couch after a night of drinking.
Williams had blamed Egenlauf for theft charges that put him in jail earlier last year, police said in a criminal complaint.
The fire killed Egenlauf’s father, Ronald Egenlauf Sr., 55; Keith Egenlauf’s 27-year-old wife, Hope Jordan; and her four children, ages 2 through 7. Keith Egenlauf, 23, managed to escape but was critically burned and is still recovering from his injuries.
Williams has pleaded not guilty, but his attorney, Richard Narvin, wouldn’t say whether his client denied setting the fire.
“It’s a tragedy,” Narvin said. “But I wasn’t there and I couldn’t give you an answer.”
Williams was brought to the courtroom in red county jail scrubs, his hands shackled to a chain around his waist, and said nothing to the judge. But just before witnesses were being sworn to testify, he leaned over and whispered to Narvin, who told the judge he had decided to waive the hearing.
“I’m quite concerned about my client. He’s extremely upset, and this has not affected him well,” Narvin said.
Several of the victims’ relatives were in court, but they filed out silently, declining to comment after Williams’ brief court appearance.
What’s known about the fire is spelled out in a criminal complaint filed when Williams was arrested Jan. 16.
“Williams found out on the news that children died in the house and began to cry,” a witness told police, according to the complaint. The witness also said, “Williams was upset and sad that children died” because “he thought Keith lived there alone.”
Asked after his arrest whether he knew children were inside the house, Williams told WPXI-TV, “No, I did not,” before declining to comment further.
Another witness told police that Williams called shortly after the fire began, saying, “I just did some crazy (expletive). I’m out on my porch waiting for the fire trucks.” The witness heard fire sirens in the background during the phone call, police said.