Charles Britton Wells, 52, a longtime state labor leader and Democratic Party activist, died from smoke inhalation after a fire broke out in his Georgetown home Tuesday night.
Scott County Coroner John Goble said the cause of death was determined at an autopsy Wednesday. Based on preliminary findings, Goble ruled the death accidental; foul play was not suspected.
The fire broke out about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in a sun room on the back side of the home at 156 Lakeview Drive. Mr. Wells' body was found in the room where the fire started, said Mike Fuller, assistant chief with the Scott County Fire Department.
An investigation determined that the fire originated inside a sunroom/living room, and was caused by an electric space heater placed too close to combustible materials, Kentucky State Police said Wednesday.
Mr. Wells was home alone when the fire started. His wife, Sheila, was said to be out of town, Fuller said. The Wellses' cat and two dogs were not hurt and ran into the yard when firefighters arrived.
On Wednesday, relatives of Mr. Wells sat next to a pond in the back yard, as fire investigators entered and exited the home. The two-story brick house is surrounded by rolling hills and horse farms.
Politicians who knew Mr. Wells mourned the loss of their colleague.
In 2008, Gov. Steve Beshear appointed Mr. Wells as a special assistant in the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet, where he was a liaison between the state and the labor groups representing its employees. Mr. Wells held that post until his death.
"Jane and I were saddened to learn of the death of our friend Charles Wells. Charles was a lifelong advocate for working families," Beshear said. "We extend our condolences to his wife, Sheila, and all of their family, and will keep them in our thoughts and prayers."
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Mr. Wells "was a good advocate for state employees, and I'm very sorry to hear about the loss. My prayers go out to the family."
Previously, Mr. Wells worked in Frankfort as the longtime director of the Kentucky Association of State Employees and the American Federation of Teachers - Kentucky. He sat on the Kentucky Democratic Party's Central Executive Committee and chaired the party's Finance Committee.
As a labor leader, Mr. Wells was one of those most critical of Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher during the investigation of Fletcher's state hiring practices. Mr. Wells complained that political leaders too often used protected merit-system jobs to reward friends and campaign supporters.
"Mr. Wells was my mentor," said David Smith, current president of the state employees association. "He encouraged not only me but all state employees to constantly better ourselves and to give a voice to those who cannot speak up for themselves."
In early 2003, Mr. Wells was the Democratic nominee in a special election for the Kentucky Senate's 17th District, which covered Scott, Owen and Grant counties and most of Kenton County. He lost to Damon Thayer, the Republican nominee and current incumbent.
Thayer saw the fire trucks go past his house Tuesday on their way to Mr. Wells' home.
"We obviously were on different sides of the political spectrum. But after our race in 2003, we always got along. We treated each other with respect," Thayer said.
Born in Paintsville, Mr. Wells had lived in Georgetown for about 30 years. He earned a bachelor's degree in communications from Georgetown College in 1983.