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Ben Montgomery, Times Staff Writer

Ben Montgomery

Ben Montgomery is an enterprise reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and founder of the narrative journalism website

Montgomery grew up in Oklahoma and studied journalism at Arkansas Tech University, where he played defensive back for the football team, the Wonder Boys. He worked for the Courier in Russellville, Ark., the Standard-Times in San Angelo, Texas, the Times Herald-Record in New York's Hudson River Valley and the Tampa Tribune before joining the Times in 2006.

In 2010, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in local reporting and won the Dart Award and Casey Medal for a series called "For Their Own Good," about abuse at Florida's oldest reform school. He lives in Tampa with his wife, Jennifer, and three children.


Twitter: @Gangrey

  1. 17 days, 9 countries: One man's jaunt through Eastern Europe


    USTI NAD LABEM, Czech Republic

    “You know where I got to go when I was a kid?" I asked my daughter as we climbed the steps to a 14th century castle overlooking the River Elbe and this worn, industrial city.


    "Texas," I said.

    It's hard to remember the Alamo when you're in Strekov Castle, built in 1316, a place that inspired Wagner's opera Tannhauser, with a view that Goethe called the most beautiful in Central Europe....

    Dresden’s Baroque Frauenkirche was painstakingly rebuilt after an Allied bombing in WWII left it in ruins.
  2. Tampa's wild hogs are 'real smart' and really hard to catch

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — Jack Surrency parks his Chevy pickup in the nature preserve, climbs out and eyeballs a muddy, ruddy patch of earth beside a paved walking trail. Knee-high grass grew here just a few days ago. Now it looks like someone lobbed a grenade.

    Hogs, for sure.

    "This right here helps me locate the hogs," he says, pointing out a game trail through the grass. "Another way I know it's hogs is if there's mud on the brush, like this."...

    Ivey "Jack" Surrency spreads corn on the ground to entice feral hogs to the area before he sets out a trap. Surrency likes to make a cross with the corn on the ground. "I am a man of God and I think it helps," Surrency said. CHRIS URSO   |   Times
  3. Enduring the power outage: What would Thomas Edison think?


    Day Four feels like Day Fourteen when the power is out and there's nothing to do but endure. All that's left in the pantry is a can of whole tomatoes, a half-sack of black-eyed peas and a box of Turkish Delights the neighbors brought back from Istanbul in 2013.

    The pack of Oreos was the first victim of Hurricane Irma.

    Survival sounded fun on the front end, exotic even. We dragged the Coleman stove in from the garage and remembered that camping trip to High Springs a few years ago when we brought the propane stove but forgot the pots or pans, so we ordered burgers from the Great Outdoors Restaurant, which at least felt rustic....

    Thomas and Mina Edison look out at their Moonlight Garden from Thomas'  office, behind them. In 1926, when the garden was planted, Thomas was 79.. Provided by Edison & Ford Winter Estates.

  4. Flames consume Robert E. Lee Elementary in Tampa Heights (w/video)


    TAMPA — Robert E. Lee Elementary School is no more.

    The oldest magnet school in Hillsborough County, which some school board members were trying to rename as part of a nationwide movement to remove Confederate symbols, burned down on Tuesday night as hundreds of residents watched and children cried.

    "Lord have mercy, Jesus," said Erica Claitt, whose 9-year-old niece attended the school until recently. "It's a historical school."...

    Tampa's historic Lee Elementary Magnet School of World Studies & Technology, also known as Robert E. Lee Elementary, was engulfed in flames Tuesday night. [BEN MONTGOMERY | Times]
  5. Irma spares Tampa Bay, other parts of the state not as lucky


    Monday's blustery daybreak brought relief — albeit cautious relief — across the Tampa Bay area.

    Hurricane Irma downed trees and power lines and knocked the canopies off some gas stations, but seemingly spared the region the catastrophic damage that had been predicted.

    "A glancing blow," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who had previously warned Irma would "punch us in the face."...

    A tree down came down but missed this 1920s home at 738 Seventh St. N in the Historic Uptown neighborhood of St. Petersburg. Damage became apparent with the light of day Monday morning.
  6. Hurricane Irma: We can't help being looky loos


    Pets indoors. Windows covered. Tubs filled. Pantry full of nonperishables. Enough candles to contact the dead.

    We fell asleep Saturday with anxiety and slept in fits, wondering what Sunday would bring, the words of the weathermen ringing. Chaos. Destruction. Category 5. Landfall. How would this big storm present itself? Those who said they knew for sure were long gone, most of them, leaving behind the immobile, the brave, the foolish, the uncertain....

    Scores of people walk on the floor of Tampa Bay along Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa. The water dramatically receded Sunday afternoon ahead of Hurricane Irma.
  7. Hurricane Irma: Stay or go? The question we are all contemplating


    We've spent all week worrying, wondering, trying hard to remember why we moved onto this peninsula that juts into the ocean like a spur. We threw plans against forecasts that looked like spaghetti noodles and came away with threadbare answers that weren't really answers.

    The only thing that seemed certain on Friday was that there is one way out of here, and that's north, and if we're going to leave we'd better go soon....

    Katherine Charles, 34, moves all of her family’s belongings from their home before evacuating the Palmetto Beach neighborhood in Tampa ahead of Hurricane Irma on Saturday.
  8. Crew recounts trip to Cuba aboard pontoon 'sea car'


    The world was full of uncertainty back in June, when Jim Wolf and three of his pals departed Clearwater Beach early one morning bound for Cuba aboard a pontoon boat.

    Because there's no such thing as surety on the open water.

    Alas, the daring Joe-Sixpack adventurers are back in the United States with some stories to tell about being part of the first-ever (so far as we could find) expedition via 'toon between those two specific points in that specific order....

    Jim Wolf, 52, of Alma, Michigan, and a crew of friends drove a 27-foot Avalon pontoon boat from Clearwater Beach to Cuba in June. Asked why, Wolf said: "Because we can." The team faced a several storms but made it back to Florida safely. (Photo courtesy Jim Wolf)
  9. A year later, Egmont Key wildfire considered a 'good thing'



    The effects of a natural fire that charred a quarter of Egmont Key are still noticeable a year later, but bright green undergrowth has already replaced the blackened detritus.

    Scorched sabal palms are plentiful on the interior 88 acres affected by the fire, but many tourists who stick to the beaches of the 328-acre island in the mouth of Tampa Bay don't even notice.

    "It amounted to a good thing," said park ranger Tom Watson, who discovered the fire early one morning in July 2016. "Nothing was harmed, nothing was hurt. It helped clean out years and years and years of brush."...

    Charred sabal palms line the west beach on Egmont Key. A July 2016 fire, caused by lightning, burned through about 88 acres but didn’t damage any historic structures.
  10. Press '1' if you're sick of customer satisfaction surveys

    Human Interest

    They're everywhere you look now, the ubiquitous customer feedback survey.

    You get a haircut and Number 9 Salon emails to ask if it's working. Call Frontier to complain and a voice begs you to take a survey about your interaction. An oil change at the Nissan dealership prompts a plea for a review.

    If it seems like you're inundated by surveys lately, it's because you are. Businesses of all kinds want your immediate feedback on how they're doing....

    [Illustration by Steve Madden | Times]
  11. Epilogue: Small of stature, Matt Cooney was known for never giving up on the golf course

    Human Interest

    Matt Cooney was 4 years old when his father bought him a set of plastic golf clubs and drove the boy to a Bermuda grass pitch near the Rocky Point Golf Course to take some swings. The father watched in awe as the son hit balls with what seemed to be natural grace and accuracy.

    "He hit a plastic golf ball so pure," said Mark Cooney, 64. "He could hit them 100 feet. Four years old!"

    Matt Cooney, 28, who played golf nearly every day since then, was still playing, coaching and marketing golf when he died in his sleep July 22 of unknown medical causes, according to his father....

    Matt Cooney, 28, who wanted to be a professional golfer, died July 22 at home in Wesley Chapel.
  12. Hillsborough and Pinellas to keep park entry fees, while Pasco makes them free again

    Local Government

    One thing stands between Mark Crawford and the mackerel schooling in the topaz saltwater around the pier at Fort De Soto Park: a toll booth. And even if the lady inside is as sweet as orange blossom honey, she still wants his five dollars.

    He's been coming since he was a boy. But lately?

    "I haven't come out here at all," said Crawford, 60, of Seminole, violating the directive on his hat — SHUT UP AND FISH....

    Jermaine Ferguson takes the $5 entry fee from a visitor at Fort De Soto Park on Wednesday. Pasco County has done away with recession era park fees, but Hillsborough and Pinellas county plan to continue to charge people to use parks like Fort De Soto and Lettuce Lake Park. LARA CERRI   |   Times

  13. Former Tampa FBI agent Joe Navarro details 'unprecedented' Cold War spy sting in new book

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — A faint quiver of cigarette smoke in a mobile home in Tampa launched the most extensive espionage investigation in FBI history, a case that brought down a Cold War spy ring so successful that it had left the West wide open to a Russian attack.

    As national attention focuses on Russian meddling in U.S. elections, a new book by a former FBI agent in Tampa highlights the potential lethality of foreign intelligence and the agency's role in disrupting black operations involving Americans who might live right next door....

    Roderick James Ramsay was sentenced in 1992 for his role in a spy ring that was selling classified secrets about European defenses.
  14. Can a pontoon boat survive the trip from Clearwater to Cuba? (w/video)

    Human Interest

    CLEARWATER BEACH — Some adventurers go looking for new worlds or new records.

    First to Mars. Fastest around the Earth.

    Important stuff, at least to them.

    But sometimes there's just a guy, and that guy has a dream of getting to Cuba on a pontoon boat.

    Meet Jim Wolf, 52, who spends part of the year in Clearwater and part in Alma, Mich., where he is president and CEO of Avalon & Tahoe Manufacturing Inc., a private, family-run pontoon boat builder....

    Doug Haskell, of Manitou Beach, Michigan, prepares a 27-foot Avalon Ambassador Elite pontoon boat on Wednesday  for its journey to Havana, Cuba, and back -- 700 miles total. Haskell and the boats crew were launching from Seminole Boat Ramp in Clearwater. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  15. Sand, sea and sunsets aside, 'Mad Beach' just can't relax

    Human Interest

    MADEIRA BEACH — In a town where a playful wind tosses sand across Gulf Boulevard like summertime snowflakes, they're talking about death threats. They're serving up blackened grouper sandwiches at Dockside Dave's, and lawsuits and ethics complaints down the street at City Hall. As tourists call for room service, residents call for the heads of elected officials.

    Welcome to self-anointed "Mad Beach," where sleepy-town politics have grown so serious the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office posts two deputies at City Commission workshops. So volatile are the public meetings that one man, dressing down commissioners this month in a sleeveless shirt, called them "Jerry Springer, Judge Judy and WWE all mixed together."...

    Jeweler Jeff Brown’s marquee calls for the ouster of Madeira Beach Commissioner Nancy Oakley, Commissioner John Douthirt and Mayor Maggi Black.