Fort Lewis soldier killed in Iraq battle

A Fort Lewis soldier has been killed in action in Iraq, and another Fort Lewis soldier has died in a motorcycle accident in Pierce County.

Staff Sgt. Hector Lee Leija, 27, a native of Raymondville, Texas, died of wounds received in battle, the Department of Defense announced Thursday. His family was informed of his death Wednesday night, the department said in a news release.

Leija was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, which is part of the Fort Lewis-based 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

The Stryker brigade recently was reunited in Baghdad after its units were spread between Mosul and Baghdad, but Leija's battalion has been working in the restive capital city since the summer.

Leija graduated from high school in the Rio Grande Valley city in 1997. He was described as a quiet but outgoing student.

"It's sad, and the staff is feeling it," principal Gilbert Galvan told KRGV-TV in nearby Weslaco. "And the students are beginning to connect, because at first, they didn't know. Now they know who he is."

"His mom still lives here in Raymondville. And our hearts and prayers go out to the family," Galvan said.

Leija played football in high school and was involved in many school activities, KRGV reported. He was in the National Honor Society, Future Farmers of America and Bible Club.

An area soldier who served with Leija, Nathan Kooiman, 26, described Leija as "an amazing soldier. That guy could out-PT anybody," he said, referring to Leija's prowess at physical training.

"He always had a super-neat uniform and he had a bald head," Kooiman said. "He was an all around good guy."

The Mission, Texas, native served with Leija on an earlier tour in Iraq. He said the two hit it off since they both came from the southern part of the state.

"He was quite the jokester," Kooiman told KRGV. "I remember him playing jokes on our first sergeant all the time."

Leija is the 89th Fort Lewis soldier to be killed in the Iraq War, and the 13th from the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division since it deployed last June.

Traffic accident

A 23-year-old Fort Lewis soldier from Roy was killed Wednesday afternoon when his motorcycle crossed into oncoming traffic in rural Pierce County, according to the Washington State Patrol.

Ryan C. Rogers was riding a black 2006 Yamaha YZFR1 motorcycle southbound on state Route 507 when he crossed into the northbound lane near 318th Street East. He struck a blue Chevrolet Suburban driven by Daniel Sullivan, 49, of Puyallup, on the left front end, the state patrol said.

Sullivan, who had attempted to move out of the way and came to rest on the right shoulder, suffered minor injuries and was transported to St. Claire Hospital in Lakewood, the patrol said.

Rogers died at the scene. Both directions of Route 507 were tied up for about three and a half hours after the crash.

The Olympian's Brian Sandford contributed to this report.