John Holliman, 49, Cable News Network's national assignment reporter and a former Washington journalist who achieved fame as one of three CNN reporters to cover the start of Operation Desert Storm from Baghdad, Iraq, died Sept. 12 in a traffic accident in Atlanta.

The Associated Press reported that Mr. Holliman was driving near his Snellville, Ga., home when he tried to pass another car in a no-passing zone. He ran head-on into an oncoming pickup truck, said Sgt. Jeff Sligar of the Gwinnett County police.

Mr. Holliman died instantly, Sligar said. The driver of the truck, Richard Wesner, was treated and released at a hospital, and his son, Eric Wesner, was treated for broken bones, Sligar said.

There was no indication that alcohol use or excessive speed was involved in the accident, Sligar said.

Mr. Holliman joined CNN in 1980 as an original member of the new network's reporting team. He worked out of its Washington bureau, covering the White House and the agriculture beat. He also served as the network's daytime Washington anchor.

He went on to report for CNN across the world, covering riots in China, the Pathfinder mission to Mars and a number of hurricanes. As its national assignment reporter, he was based at network headquarters in Atlanta.

Mr. Holliman gained his greatest exposure on Jan. 16, 1991, when he and fellow CNN reporters Peter Arnett and Bernard Shaw reported from a Baghdad hotel room as the forces of the United States and its allies unleashed Operation Desert Storm against Iraq. The trio reported as bombs and missiles burst around them.

"This is a real loss to the CNN family," Arnett said. "He's the one who made that first broadcast possible. He had a real knowledge of broadcasting."

"When the bombing started, we immediately lost power, so we thought we wouldn't be able to broadcast," Arnett said. "But then Holliman went to our equipment and just switched out the batteries, and we were able to communicate for several days like that with the sounds of hell falling on our heads."

The reporters, whose work was supplemented by brilliant photography of the Iraqi capital, gained worldwide fame for both their interviews of Iraqi officials and their coverage of the typical Iraqi citizen.

Some critics attacked the reporters for accepting official Iraqi statements at face value, but their work won National Headliner, Golden Microphone and George Foster Peabody awards.

At the time of his death, Mr. Holliman was preparing to co-anchor, with Walter Cronkite, coverage of the return to space of Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio), one of the seven original Mercury astronauts.

Upon learning of his death, CNN News Group Chairman Tom Johnson remembered Mr. Holliman as "one of a kind -- a CNN original" who was "a terrific journalist." Johnson added, "As one of the boys of Baghdad, he showed great courage reporting as allied bombs fell all around them."

Mr. Holliman, a Georgia native, was a journalism graduate of the University of Georgia.

Before joining CNN, he worked in Washington news for WASH-FM and Metromedia, and from 1974 to 1980 as agriculture editor of the Associated Press Radio Network.

With AP, he also wrote a daily column for the broadcast wire and filed farm stories on its national newspaper wire.

He received a 1976 Peabody Award for his documentary "The Garden Plot -- Food as a Weapon in International Diplomacy."

Holliman is survived by his wife, Diane, of Snellville; a son; his mother; and a brother. CAPTION: JOHN HOLLIMAN ec