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Panicked pooch plunges off Skyway

Maggie May travels a lot. But she'd never been on a trip quite like this.

By LEANORA MINAI

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 14, 2001


Maggie May, a boxer mix who rides everywhere in the car, was contentedly sitting in the back seat Tuesday when chaos broke out on the Sunshine Skyway bridge.

Her northbound car, beginning its ascent of the center span, was clipped from behind by another vehicle, ejecting Maggie out the window and into a whir of traffic.

Panicked, the 5-year-old family pet jumped 50 feet into the waters of Tampa Bay.

"Where's Maggie?" owner and Arcadia resident Kathy Blakeley shouted as she searched the bridge. "Where's my dog?"

Maggie was treading 20-foot deep water for all she was worth. A fisherman hunting for bait spotted a brown head bobbing in the bay. At first he thought it was a person. He looked through his binoculars.

"I saw the dog swimming around in a circle," said fisherman Kenny Hyatt, who works at Rodbenders in Tampa.

No other boats were around. Hyatt motored over to Maggie and pulled her 87-pound body onto the boat.

"She would have been toast," said Hyatt, 27.

Cut and bleeding, Maggie was not limping. She sat with her tail between her legs at the front of the boat. Her owners shouted to her from the bridge.

"That's our baby!" called Mrs. Blakeley's husband, Dennis Blakeley, 52.

"She would have drowned in that water," his wife said.

The incident began at 9:50 a.m. in the northbound lanes of Interstate 275, 2 miles south of the bridge's center span.

Mrs. Blakeley, 40, was driving her husband, a Vietnam veteran, to the VA Medical Center at Bay Pines. They were in their 1993 Hyundai, and Mrs. Blakeley switched from her lane because of road work, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

As she changed lanes, a 1997 Toyota truck driven by Matthew Kitchie of Palmetto struck the back of their car.

The FHP cited both drivers, saying Mrs. Blakeley made an improper lane change, and 23-year-old Kitchie was speeding.

The $90 ticket didn't matter to the Blakeleys.

"It's just a miracle that Maggie made it," said Mrs. Blakeley, who named Maggie after the Rod Stewart song.

They were renuited at O'Neill's Marina, where Maggie wagged her tail at the sight of her owners. Dennis Blakeley bent over and examined Maggie's face.

"Hi, little girl," he said. "It's Daddy. Go see Mom."

Mrs. Blakeley tried to get her to drink water from a cup. But Maggie was more interested in sniffing the nearby puddles.

From now on, Maggie will be strapped in a doggie seat belt, which is sold at local pet stores and on the Internet. Said Mrs. Blakeley: "There's no doubt about that."

Maggie's adventure evoked comparisons to another dog that survived a fall from the Skyway -- a Rottweiler named Shasta who dropped nearly 200 feet from the center span when her owner jumped to his death in May 1998. It was never known whether the dog followed her master or went involuntarily.

Shasta became an international sensation, with more than 50 people trying to adopt her. The dog now lives in the spacious home of an animal lover on Indian Rocks Beach.

- Times researcher Cathy Wos and WTSP-Ch. 10 contributed to this report.

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