The widow of a highly-regarded advocate for state employees has sued the maker of a space heater officials say started the fire that killed her husband.
Sheila Wells, whose husband, 52-year-old Charles Wells, died in a fire at their Scott County home Feb. 21, sued Howard Berger Company Inc. and Big Lots Stores Inc., where they bought the electric space heater, in Scott Circuit Court Tuesday.
The suit alleges both companies “knew or had reason to know” the space heaters were dangerous and defective but produced them anyway, LEX18 reports.
Charles Wells headed the Governor’s Employee Advisory Council, a position he had held since 2008 after serving 19 years as executive director of the Kentucky Association of State Employees.
He died of smoke inhalation after the space heater was placed too close to combustible materials and started a fire in his home’s sunroom, state police say.
Wells handled union negotiations, among other duties, with the Personnel Cabinet.
“He was absolutely a huge advocate on behalf of state workers,” David Smith, KASE’s current executive director, told The State Journal after Wells’ death. “He believed in a fair process, and that’s something that’s really rare.
“It wasn’t about what he was about. It was about what everyone was about. He put the needs of all workers, in particular state employees, into consideration and wanted everybody to look at the needs of state workers.”
He was also involved in state and local politics. Wells ran unsuccessfully for the 17th Senate district in a special election in 2003 and a seat on the Kentucky Retirement Systems’ Board of Trustees in 2010.
He also served the Kentucky Democratic Party as a member of the State Central Committee and the party’s Finance Committee, according to the party’s website.
Sheila Wells is seeking more than $1 million in damages. She did not return a call seeking comment.