Killer bees swarm woman, 91, as neighbors stand helpless
She fell to the ground and cried for help; Neighbor: "We tried to get the bees off her but they started stinging us too"
By Mike Clary
PLANTATION, Fla. — Neighbors described feelings of helplessness and horror Wednesday, a day after they watched a 91-year-old woman writhing on the ground in front of her house as she was being attacked by hundreds of swarming bees.
"She was yelling, 'Help me! Help me!' and 'Get some water!'" recalled Alejandro Quintero, who lives across from Victoria Ehrlich in the 1400 block of Campanelli Drive West. "We tried to get the bees off her but they starting stinging us, too."
Ehrlich sustained "more than 100 stings on her face, arms and even up her nose," said Robert Gluck, an attorney representing the family.
Ehrlich remained in stable condition Wednesday evening and was being moved to a room from the intensive care unit at Westside Regional Medical Center, Gluck said.
Urban entomologist Bill Kern of the University of Florida's research center in Davie, said the bees were probably Africanized or hybrid half-Africanized bees that nest at this time of year in small dark spaces and can attack people or animals with little provocation.
The attack on Ehrlich happened just before 6:30 p.m. Tuesday after she pulled into the driveway of her house, got out of the car and may have stepped on or come close to a heavy iron plate covering a water meter and the bees' nest, according to Quintero, 77.
As the bees swarmed her, she fell to the ground and cried for help, he said.
Both Quintero and his wife Maria approached Erhlich but were quickly attacked themselves, they said. Maria Quintero said the bees got into her hair, and Alejandro Quintero said he was stung on the neck. They retreated as other neighbors called 911.
Rene Schwartz, 88, who uses a walker to get around, said she too was powerless to help. "Vicky was just lying on the ground saying, 'Get me water,'" said Schwartz, who watched from across the street.
In his incident report, Plantation Police Officer Rudolph Brown said when he arrived, Ehrlich was "lying on the porch near the front door of her house." He helped Plantation Fire Rescue crews get her into an ambulance.
"Victoria sustained multiple bee stings in her facial area; however, I observed that Victoria was conscious and alert," Brown wrote.
"She was in a pretty serious state," Battalion Chief Joel Gordon said, adding that the stinging attack could have lasted just seconds. "Once they're aggravated, they move very quickly. We were there in a matter of minutes, and by the time we were there, they were already dissipated."
The crew sprayed the hive and bees with a foam typically used for grease fires, killing the bees on contact, Gordon said.
Sometimes called "killer bees," Africanized honeybees are a hybrid that developed after the escape of African bees imported into Brazil to serve as pollinators, according to experts.
Thought to have arrived in Florida in 2001 in a cargo ship, they spread quickly, and today represent an estimated 90 percent or more of the wild honeybees south of Interstate 4 in Central Florida.
"Rainy weather can make them kind of grumpy," said Kern. "Some colonies are much more tolerant than others. It's hard to say what set them off."
Avoiding bee nests, attacks
- Seal openings in your house greater than 1/8 inch.
- Remove potential nesting sites, such as overturned flower pots.
- Install screens over vents, rain spouts, water utility boxes and tree cavities.
- Inspect for bee activity once or twice a week during the spring and summer.
- Examine areas before allowing pets there.
- If attacked, run away, protect your face and airways, take shelter. Don't swat them because rapid movements agitate them further.
- Call a local pest control company.