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A St. Petersburg soldier faces down car bomber

By CURTIS KRUEGER, Times Staff Writer
Published December 12, 2003

James Lawrence Ross III of St. Petersburg is the kind of person who revels in "anything that's daredevilish," including climbing, rappelling and parachuting, his family says.

But this week at a U.S. military base in northern Iraq, Army Spc. Ross got the kind of adrenaline rush no one hopes for.

Ross, 22, had just come on duty as a sentry at a base in Talafar when he saw a suspicious car barreling toward him, according to news reports and his parents. He fired at the car, which stopped, then blew up. Army officials told reporters the car carried a suicide bomber and 1,000 pounds of explosives.

It was 5 a.m., and Ross was in a guard tower, said his father, James Ross Jr., 45, a St. Petersburg engineer who later spoke to him by telephone. Ross saw the car driving with headlights on, coming toward the base a little too fast.

He fired warning shots, and then something even more suspicious happened: The car sped up, in spite of the warning shots, said Melanie Ross, 48, who is Ross' stepmother.

"That's when he totally unloaded his weapon," Mrs. Ross said. "He just said that he realized that the car was going to keep going and he just said, "I've been trained to stop them.' "

After Ross shot more than 100 rounds of ammunition, the car stopped and then blew up. The blast wounded 58 people but killed none.

A heavily fortified wall of concrete, sandbags and barbed wire around the base absorbed most of the blast, but flying debris and glass caused injuries to soldiers.

"If this guy had made it to the gate, it would have been real ugly," Sgt. Maj. Thomas Zoch said in a Chicago Tribune report. Zoch and Ross are in the 1st Battalion of the 187th Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st Airborne Division, posted in Talafar.

Lt. Col. Christopher Pease told Agence France Presse the car had been packed with 1,000 pounds of explosives, and praised Ross for his actions.

"We were very fortunate," Pease said. "If it were not for our force protection measures, it would have been carnage."

Ross told Agence France Presse in Iraq that something "just didn't seem right" about the car.

"I opened fire before he even hit our wire, and I kept firing until he blew up the vehicle. I let off almost 100 rounds," Ross said.

"I just kept thinking: Get that vehicle stopped. In my opinion, it was headed toward our tactical operations center."

Afterward, Mrs. Ross said, "He had so many people that came up to him thanking him for saving their lives."

She says he told them: "I was only doing what they taught me to do."

The Rosses said they are extremely proud of James, who moved to St. Petersburg a few years ago after graduating from high school in Boone County, Ky., where he grew up.

Mrs. Ross said James loves living in Florida, going to the beach and finding "daredevilish" things to do such as skydiving. He would love to be an Army Ranger, she said.

In St. Petersburg, he worked for his brother Jared Samon, who has a development company. But he decided to join the Army, possibly to make a career out of it. He re-enlisted while in Iraq, the Rosses said.

His mother, Sandy Gregg of Taylor Mill, Ky., said: "He's a great kid and thankfully he was able to save many lives."

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