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A Frenchtown man who allegedly responded to his wife’s request for a divorce by trying to set their home afire – even though his wife and sleeping 7-year-old daughter were inside – now faces arson and assault charges.

Leroy James “Jim” McKay, 40, was charged Friday with arson, a felony, and partner or family member assault and criminal mischief, both misdemeanors.

McKay’s alleged attempt to burn down the house “makes him unbelievably risky,” said Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg, who requested a $20,000 bail at McKay’s initial court appearance on Friday.

Missoula County Justice of the Peace John Odlin, who earlier Friday approved an order of protection against McKay, opted for a higher, $50,000 bail amount.

McKay’s wife called authorities at 4:13 a.m. Friday. When Missoula County sheriff’s deputies arrived, McKay was gone and his wife was in the yard, “talking rapidly and physically shaking,” according to charging documents.

She told them that her husband is an alcoholic with a gambling addiction, and that when he got home from a bar at 3:30 a.m., she told him they needed a divorce, according to Van Valkenburg’s affidavit.

Later, she said, he grabbed a laptop she was working on and threw it, knocking the battery loose and breaking the screen, the affidavit said.

“Jim told her that he could burn the house down if he wanted and proceeded to light hanging clothes on fire in the closet of the master bedroom,” the affidavit said. She also told authorities he lighted a tapestry above the bed.

She managed to get him out of the bedroom, then locked the door behind her and put out the fires, and waited until he left the house.

Sheriff’s deputies found McKay on his parents’ property, “obviously intoxicated,” the affidavit said. He admitted he and his wife had an argument, but denied any physical assault and said he didn’t know anything about a fire, the affidavit said. Deputies found burnt clothing and a singed tapestry, it said.

Odlin ordered McKay not to have any contact with his wife and daughter, and to stay at least 1,000 feet away from their home. He also ordered him to wear a GPS ankle bracelet.

McKay posted bond and was released from jail shortly before 4 p.m. Friday.

Arson is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and/or a $50,000 fine.

Missoulian reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, gwen.florio@missoulian.com, or @CopsAndCourts.

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