Three men were cleaning up a field near Devine when they were viciously attacked by bees this past Saturday around 3:30 pm. One man, Hector Vasquez, was stung 400-500 times according to a friend who was with him. Vasquez was airlifted to University Hospital. Two other men who were there in the field with him were also stung, one of them a couple hundred times, but Vasquez bore the brunt of the attack. The attack happened on a property along County Road 674 between Roy’s Beverage Barn and the old Rancho Grande store.
A local bee keeper explains that we do have Africanized “killer bees” around here. He also points out that they are close relatives of regular Honey Bees and are practically identical without a microscope.
Vasquez recently had a tracheotomy, which he believes helped to keep his throat from total closure. He stated that he had bees inside his “mouth, nostrils, ears, and eye lids as well as stings throughout his body” and adds it was like “a 3ft by 4 ft cloud of bees”.
“I knew time was running out so I had all resources possible called out,” Vasquez said, commenting on the aggressiveness of the swarm, “never stopping no matter what I tried.”
“I’m a believer in Epi pens, and AirLife provided a few which made a big difference,” Vasquez said. Vasquez, who was a former police chief in Natalia, adds “No matter what incident you encounter always remember to try and remain calm.”
Joe “Doc” Linehan was one of the other men helping to clear brush, and he shared his first-hand account of the attack.
“Hector brought his tractor out to help us push up some brush and clean up. Troy and I were walking around looking for wood to use for a bonfire. We had no idea there were any bees, didn’t see any sign of them,” Linehan said. “Then all of a sudden we heard Hector screaming. Hector had hit a tree stump that was next to a big hollow tree lying on the ground. He definitely became the target for the bees. Those bees covered him up like a blanket. It was just unbelievable. You have to witness something like this to really understand what we saw.”
“We were throwing water from our water bottles on him and trying to wipe them off of him, but they just surrounded him, like they were just shielding him from us. The bees didn’t want to let us near Hector, didn’t want to let us near the truck. They went after anything that came down there. I wasn’t about to just sit there though, so we kept trying to help him, and I got stung a couple hundred times too. They even stung me through my jeans.”
Linehan adds, “I was told he was stung 400-500 times. They even found some of the bees inside his mouth and throat, and they took some of the bees for analysis to see what kind they are…I have seen a lot in my life. I’ve seen all kinds of wrecks and accidents and spent many years in the military and I thought I’d seen it all until I saw this. I was afraid he was going to die. They just covered him. It looked like he had a big fur coat on. We were out in the field and didn’t have much water and definitely did not have soap, but I wish we would have because I think that works better than anything else.”
“The fire department showed up with the CAFS system (Compressed air foam system), and that knocked the bees out in a matter of seconds. It knocked them right out of the air. ”
Hector Vasquez is recovering thanks to quick actions by friends, EMS, and fire crews and was still in the hospital this week as we went to press.
“Hector is a good friend. He’ll come out to help anybody who needs a field shredded,” Linehan said. “He’s just that kind of guy.”
Hector was grateful to “all who helped him during this emergency” and expressed his gratitude. Also, “The stingers and bees were removed in the ER at University Hospital by a group of residents from Incarnate Word, I appreciate all they also did to help me”.
Eddie Geyer, of Geyer Farms, has been working with honey bees for some 28 years, and gave some insight into the mean Africanized Honey Bee.
“I run into Africanized bees about 2-3 times a year. The area where the attack happened is prime country for bees. They have a lot of Chinese Tallow trees in that area and bees love those trees. It’s good country for them to nest. You cannot tell the difference between the Africanized bees and regular Honey Bees by looking at them, but I would say they probably were the Africanized bees if they stung someone that many times. Africanized bees are really hot, and when I say really hot, I mean really mean,” Geyer explains. “All bees have a temper, but you might get stung 20-30 times by a regular European bee, but they aren’t gonna chase you a quarter mile and sting you 400 times. Back when A&M was sampling them, they had to look at them under a microscope to count the number of veins on their wings. That is the only way to tell the difference. So, if you wanted to know for sure what kind of bee it is, the only way to really tell is to send a sample to A&M.”
Geyer shared a little more about the breed of mean bees which started becoming a problem here in the US during the mid-late 80’s.
“Researchers brought bees from Africa to South America/Brazil,” Geyer said. “What they were doing was trying to produce a ‘Super Bee.’ These Africanized Honey Bees were bred for their genetics. However, the bees got loose before researchers were done perfecting the bees. They are great producers of honey, but are too aggressive. They came up through Mexico and we just couldn’t stop them. So here we are.”
“Another tell-tell sign to look for is their brood pattern. If you look at the honeycomb and there’s an egg inside every hole, it’s probably Africanized bees. I always kill the queen if I see aggressive bees with a really pretty brood pattern like that. You can use soap and water to kill bees, but you have to make sure you have A LOT of water. It does work, but soap and water will only kill what it touches, so I always use some Seven Dust which kills them when they walk across it and they also feed it to each other.”
By Kayleen Holder and Kathleen Calame