MONTPELIER, Vt. - John Curran, an award-winning journalist for The Associated Press who covered stories from Miss America pageants to the Gulf oil spill to recent devastating flooding in Vermont, where he served as the news cooperative's news leader, died Saturday. He was 54.

The husband and father of three was stricken with an apparent heart attack while mowing the lawn at his Montpelier home, said his brother, Robert Curran Jr.

Curran's AP career spanned more than two decades and earned him numerous awards for his feature, sports and profile writing. He wrote about the sacrifice of Vermont's National Guard in recent wars and documented the saga of a moose named Pete, who became a cause celebre over wildlife regulation.

He was the first journalist to write about the New Hampshire community that carefully guarded the privacy of J.D. Salinger even after the author's death. Just weeks ago, he boarded an ATV to navigate around flood waters to tell the stories and capture the images of those whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed after the remnants of Hurricane Irene severed access to some Vermont communities.

"John's death is a stunning loss to all who knew and worked with him," said Karen Testa, the AP's editor for the East region. "He was widely regarded as one of the most gifted writers, a tireless journalist whose attention to detail made his work so compelling to read. He was a mentor to young reporters and leaves a legacy of colleagues across the country who learned to be better journalists by working with him and learning from him."

The son of longtime Buffalo News columnist Bob Curran, John Curran graduated from St. Bonaventure College in Olean, N.Y., studying journalism. He went to work for the Niagara Gazette, later joining the AP in Charleston in 1989. He transferred to Boston in 1993. 

In 1994 he was promoted to Atlantic City, where he covered crime, politics, the Miss America pageant and Donald Trump's casinos.

He was named AP's news leader in Vermont in 2006.

Curran was born in New York City and raised in the Buffalo area. He graduated from high school in Amherst, N.Y., in 1975 and was admitted to the United States Military Academy Preparatory School at Fort Monmouth, N.J., where students prepare for attendance the following year at the academy at West Point, N.Y.

He had planned to play basketball at West Point, but was injured in a motorcycle accident and served instead as an enlisted man in the U.S. Army, his brother said. He got his start in journalism writing for Army newspapers.

He is survived by his wife, a son and two daughters. Services were incomplete late Saturday.