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Army Pfc. Leroy Harris-Kelly III, 20, Azusa; Convoy Truck Overturns

Times Staff Writer

Army Pfc. Leroy Harris-Kelly III spent most of his four years at Azusa High School living up to his reputation as the class clown.

With a broad smile and quick wit, the popular athlete and musician easily charmed classmates, teachers and coaches with his antics.

But after he enlisted in the Army shortly after graduating in June 2001, Harris-Kelly’s devil-may-care life turned serious as the Iraq war brought him face to face with fear, sacrifice and, ultimately, death.

Harris-Kelly, 20, was in a convoy of military vehicles Tuesday when his truck swerved to avoid hitting another vehicle during a sandstorm, went off the road and rolled over north of Tallil, Iraq, military officials said.

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Harris-Kelly, who was assigned to the 596th Maintenance Co., 3rd Corps Support Command, V Corps in Darmstadt, Germany, died of chest injuries suffered in the crash, said his father, Leroy Harris Jr. of Azusa.

“He was about to come home,” his father said. “He was driving to Kuwait, where he was going to leave for Germany when he got into the accident.”

“His passing is a great loss to all as he becomes the first Azusan to give his life for his country in the war with Iraq,” said Robert Person, Azusa’s interim city manager, who ordered that all city flags be flown at half-staff.

Harris-Kelly was born Sept. 25, 1983, in San Jose, Costa Rica, and moved with his family to Azusa when he was 3. He attended Lee Elementary School, Foothill Middle School and Azusa High School, where he played football and basketball.

“He was the guy who loved to entertain. He would do stand-up comedy and dance,” his father said. “He was a happy kid.”

After graduation, Harris-Kelly told his father and mother, Guiselle Harris-Kelly, that he had decided to go into the Army.

“He loved it,” Leroy Harris Jr. said. “He always used to say it’s an army of one because it was like a big family.”

Harris-Kelly met his future wife, Jessica, while both were training to become soldiers in Ft. Lee, Va., Leroy Harris Jr. said. The couple were married in Germany on July 5, 2002.

Jessica Harris-Kelly was honorably discharged from the service after she gave birth to their daughter, Aalexis, who is now 15 months old. They live in Mount Pleasant, Mich., Jessica’s hometown.

Although Harris-Kelly was not assigned to a combat unit, he knew of the potential danger he faced when he was deployed to Iraq in March 2003.

In a telephone call to his parents two weeks ago, Harris-Kelly said that he had suffered moderate injuries during an ambush while driving from Kuwait to Baghdad, Leroy Harris Jr. said.

“He always felt proud about the Army, but he was happy that he was about to come home,” his father said.

Four days after the phone call, an Army captain went to the Harris-Kelly home in Azusa.

“I was hoping that it was just an accident and that he was in the hospital,” Leroy Harris Jr. said. “My wife just burst into tears. She knew that something was wrong.”

The captain confirmed the parents’ worst fears when he told them that their son had been killed in Iraq.

“He was a good son,” Leroy Harris Jr. said. “We are proud of him.”

Harris-Kelly also is survived by his sister, Guisly, 15; his maternal grandmother, Millicent Kelly of Azusa; his paternal grandmother, Inez Blanche of San Jose, Costa Rica; and several other relatives.

Funeral arrangements were pending.


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