Fire kills prominent couple's grandsons

ralessi@herald-leader.comDecember 26, 2009 

An early morning fire on Christmas Day killed two boys at the home of Louisville businessman Irv Bailey and his wife, Cathy Bailey, the former U.S. ambassador to Latvia.

The Baileys' two grandchildren, ages 10 and 13, died as family members and firefighters tried to reach them at the Baileys' sprawling east Jefferson County home, said Maj. Henry Ott, chief of investigations for the Louisville Metro Police arson squad.

The boys were visiting with their parents from Vermont, Ott said.

Five adults, including Irv and Cathy Bailey, also were at home. Several suffered from smoke inhalation and lacerations, Ott said.

Irv and Cathy Bailey were taken to a hospital with "serious but non-life-threatening injuries," said Scott Jennings, spokesman for the family.

"The Bailey family is requesting privacy at this time of great loss," Jennings said.

Firefighters from four companies — Harrods Creek, St. Matthews, Lyndon and Worthington — responded to the call, which came in at 4:37 a.m., Ott said.

"We've had a lot of fire deaths this year. Every one of them is a tragedy," he said. "But when it happens on Christmas and the grandparents are there, it's difficult to describe how heartbreaking it is."

Ott said the fire appeared to have started in the first floor of the east end of the house and that investigators will focus on the living and dining rooms. Most of the bedrooms were on the second floor of the west part of the home.

"The family did awaken to the smoke detector sound, but from that point on, we don't know what transpired," Ott said.

The cause remains under investigation and will probably take until next week to determine, he said.

"About two-thirds of the house has collapsed into the basement, so we're going to have to get heavy equipment in to get to it," he said.

The Baileys are prominent philanthropists. Cathy Bailey, for instance, created Operation Open Arms, which helps care for children whose mothers are in prison.

In addition to her involvement in civic groups and charities, she has become a major player in national Republican politics, especially over the last decade.

She served as Kentucky chairwoman last year for GOP presidential nominee John McCain's campaign in Kentucky.

She also has led fund-raising efforts for Kentucky's U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is now the Senate Republican leader.

And she spearheaded fund-raising efforts for George W. Bush's 2000 campaign in Kentucky, achieving the status of "ranger" by raising more than $200,000.

In 2005, Bush appointed Bailey as the ambassador to Latvia, a position she held until 2008.

Earlier this year, Bailey considered running for U.S. Senate in a bid to replace retiring Republican Sen. Jim Bunning. And she has been mentioned as a potential congressional candidate in Louisville.

Irv Bailey became a multimillionaire as the chairman and CEO of Providian Corp., an insurance company that was sold to Aegon in 1997.

He served as managing director of the investment firm Chrysalis Ventures in Louisville from 2001 to 2004 and remains a senior adviser to the company, according to Chrysalis' Web site.

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