By BRAD GOLDSTEIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 7, 1998
T. PETERSBURG -- As Greg Masters steered his boat toward the Gulf of Mexico early Wednesday, his thoughts were on king mackerel.
Soon, however, he found himself fishing an entirely different creature from the sea: a 100-pound female Rottweiler who went over the side of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge when her owner jumped to his death Wednesday morning.
Masters was the best rescuer the injured animal could have hoped for: The 30-year-old St. Petersburg man has been a veterinarian for five years.
"The poor thing was cold and wet and had swallowed a lot of saltwater," Masters said. "This was one true lady. She was very sweet. She didn't hesitate to let us do what we needed to do" to administer first aid.
It remained a mystery Wednesday night how the dog, Shasta, came to be in the water along with her owner, John P. Radd, 44, a Lakeland-area man who Hillsborough sheriff's officials said committed suicide from the bridge about 6:20 a.m. Wednesday.
Authorities don't know whether the dog jumped from the top of the bridge in pursuit of her master, was pushed, or fell the 197 feet to the bay. Cameras on the bridge didn't capture any of the event, authorities said.
Masters first saw Shasta as he approached the Skyway sometime before 7 a.m. Off his boat's port side, he saw a U.S. Coast Guard vessel and a rescue boat scouring the area. Fighting the glare from the water, he passed within 10 feet of the dog floating in the heavy current.
As he approached the animal, he saw she was alive, desperately paddling with her rear legs beneath the bridge. Masters grabbed the dog by her metal collar and hauled her aboard. The black and mahogany animal reminded him of his own Rottweiler, Max, he said.
"I wasn't sure they were looking for a dog or a human," said Masters, who practices at V.C.A. Animal Hospital in St. Petersburg.
Coast Guard officials told Masters they think the dog jumped with Radd from the main span. They couldn't take the dog, they said, because they were still searching for Radd's body, which they later recovered.
Police found Shasta's collar and leash in Radd's abandoned car on the bridge. Radd's death is the eighth suicide from the Skyway this year. That equals the number of people who jumped from the bridge during all of 1997. The apparent increase has caused some people in the Tampa Bay area to call for phone hot lines and higher fences along the Skyway.
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Radd's father, John F. Radd of Lakeland, said he didn't know why his son would want to commit suicide. He described him as a loner who had separated from his wife but said he had not seen him in three years. The younger Radd had one son, worked as a grocery clerk in Lakeland and traveled everywhere with his dog, his father said.
"He told his friends he was going fishing," the elder Radd said.
Radd's wife could not be reached for comment.
Although Masters says Rottweilers are extremely loyal animals, he doubts the dog followed its owner over the bridge.
"If I were to guess, she would had to have been thrown off," Masters said. "She had some mild neurological defect to the front right paw" as a result of the fall.
But Radd's father thinks the dog followed his son over the side. "He went, and the dog jumped after him," he said. "That's his master. He went everywhere with that dog."
Beth Lockwood, executive director for Pinellas County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said the society is trying to determine if Radd's family will accept Shasta. If not, she will be put up for adoption.
"I just hope she does well," Masters said. "With Mother's Day coming up, I hope she has some family who will care for her."