Harley-Riding Arkansas Firefighter Dies in Iraq Car Bombing

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. (AP) -- Colleagues remembered a former firefighter who died during an explosion in Baghdad as a Harley-riding ''gung ho'' natural leader who always tried to get close to the action.

Todd James Venette died when car bombs exploded Saturday in the Iraqi capital, killing 22 people and injuring at least 36 Iraqis. He had been working in Iraq for Fayetteville, N.C.-based contractor CTU Consulting.

Colleagues at the Russellville Fire Department said Sunday that Venette had built a reputation as an eager firefighter during his five years with the agency.

Capt. Richard Setian described Venette as a ''gung ho'' firefighter who left behind no strangers at the 55-member department.

Venette moved to Arkansas from his native Colorado to be closer to his mother, said people who knew him. The Pope County Sheriff's Department said he briefly worked for them as a reserve deputy.

He also served in the Marines and took a leave from the department in 2003 to go to Baghdad as a reservist. He returned to Russellville, but left again in March 2004 to work for a contractor in Iraq, Setian said.

His colleagues watched over Venette's Harley Davidson motorcycle and waited for his visits home.

''He knew the risk,'' Setian said. ''The excitement that was portrayed, he liked that. He always liked things that were exciting.''

Venette was a natural leader and others followed him, both in work and at play, colleagues said.

Setian noted that Venette liked playing street hockey and got others interested.

''As rare as that is in Arkansas, he got a bunch of us guys motivated to do that. He was the one pushing new ideas,'' Setian said.

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