SWAMPSCOTT — A drunk Timothy Brosnan was leaning against the bumper of his 10-year-old Honda Pilot late Saturday afternoon, laughing, as his house was burning 50 yards away on Linden Avenue, police say.
"It's the most beautiful thing ever," Brosnan, 57, allegedly told an officer in his thick Irish accent.
"I did that," Brosnan allegedly boasted to police arriving at the scene of Saturday's blaze, which sent a firefighter to the hospital with heat exhaustion and caused extensive damage to the $791,000 home.
The apparent motive: Brosnan was supposed to move out of the house so his estranged wife could move back in on Monday with two of their three children.
Instead, both were in separate Essex County courtrooms Monday morning — Brosnan to be arraigned on a charge of arson in Lynn District Court, while his wife sought a restraining order in Salem Probate and Family Court, as well as funds to pay the cost of boarding up their former home.
Brosnan is being held without bail pending a dangerousness hearing on Wednesday. His attorney, Gary Zerola, entered a plea of not guilty on Brosnan's behalf.
Police say Brosnan told them he made sure "no one was home, not even the cat," then poured gasoline throughout the garage and house, turned on a natural gas valve and set the place on fire.
Police said they could smell the odor of both gasoline and natural gas, and that Brosnan, and the interior of the Honda where he'd been sitting, reeked of it. They also say he smelled of alcohol.
As he spoke, police said, Brosnan continued to look back at the fire, complaining to a sergeant that he was a "buzz kill" for refusing to let him continue watching the house burn while they placed him under arrest.
Prosecutor Katelyn Giliberti told a judge she is awaiting reports from arson investigators, and requested time to obtain those as well as speak to witnesses, before a hearing is held to determine whether Brosnan is too dangerous to release from custody while awaiting trial.
Brosnan's wife, Mary, a nurse at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Brighton, filed for divorce in April, citing an irreparable breakdown of their 27-year marriage. The no-fault divorce filing did not require her to state any specifics.
But in an affidavit filed Monday in support of a restraining order, she told a judge that she believes, "Tim is an alcoholic and had a very abusive childhood, and I believe has psychiatric issues that are undiagnosed. He exhibits paranoia regularly."
In his own court filings in the divorce, Brosnan accused his wife of infidelity, but said that when he returned last year from a three-month trip to his native Ireland to make repairs on property he owns there, he discovered that she and his two daughters had moved out of the home.
"After my wife and the children left the home, I fell into a deep depression and severe loneliness," Brosnan wrote in an affidavit. He said he had difficulty functioning and was unable to work.
But he also was adamant that he didn't want to move out, saying he believed he should be allowed to stay and renovate the house in order to put it on the market.
"I feel that it is only fair that, since my wife abandoned me and our home 11 months ago, I have the right to stay in the home that I built," Brosnan wrote in the June 22 court filing.
That same day, however, he and his wife signed an agreement that called for him to move out of the home by Aug. 1 so his wife and two of their children could move back in.
"Essentially, this defendant caused a three-alarm fire that not only put himself in danger but the neighbors and the community," Giliberti said.
Zerola objected to delaying the dangerousness hearing but was overruled by Judge James Lamothe.
Giliberti told the judge there are "lots of layers to this story."
Outside court, Zerola told reporters that Brosnan has only a "limited memory of what happened" on Saturday but denies joking about the fire.
"I think Mr. Brosnan has been going through a very difficult time in his life," said Zerola. "It's the end of a 27-year marriage."
Zerola called his client "a kindhearted soul, a generous man, a tremendously loving father."
"He's very emotional," said Zerola. "He understands the seriousness of what's going on."
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.