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Death of Niland man swarmed by bees prompts safety presentations

November 22, 2001|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer

The death of a man swarmed by bees at the Slabs in Niland last weekend prompted the county Agriculture Commissioner's Office to sponsor presentations Wednesday on bee safety.

County Deputy Coroner Gary Hayes said the death of Jerry Valentine, a resident of the Slabs, was due to a pre-existing heart condition.

Valentine, 61, was attacked by bees while he and friends were trying to move picnic benches, Hayes said.

"Mr. Valentine had a heart defect and it looks like he died of a heart attack," Hayes said. "He has substantial blockage on three of this arteries."

Hayes said the excitement of the situation probably caused Valentine's death. The cause of death was not anaphylactic shock, which is what would be found if it was a bee-sting death.


Nevertheless, Niland residents are concerned about bee safety. Robert Powell, an agricultural biologist with the Agriculture Commissioner's Office, gave the two presentations.

Africanized honey bees, nicknamed as "killer bees" because of their aggressive behavior, have been in the county since 1994, Powell said.

Since then there have been about 20 stinging incidents but Valentine was the first human to die from a bee-related incident, he said. Several dogs have died locally from bee attacks.

"We had one dog that had several thousand stingers just in its head," Powell said.

At least 95 percent of all wild bee hives in the county are Africanized, he said.

"We are completely infested with Africanized honey bees," Powell said.

It is impossible to tell Africanized honey bees from the European honey bees with the naked eye, he said. A DNA analysis is being performed on the bees that attacked Valentine, but results will not be available until at least next week.

The main difference between the two types of bees is their behavior, Powell said. Africanized honey bees will attack in larger numbers and for a longer time.

When the bees are foraging for nectar, they are focused on what they are doing and are not likely to attack, he said. They are most dangerous when defending their hive.

Thousands of Africanized honey bees will defend their hive, Powell said.

Wild bee hives can be found anywhere.

Powell said people need to check their property. Bees like to set up hives anywhere there is a cavity with a small opening such as attics, under house eves, in trees or in tires at junk piles. A hive in an old tire swarmed Valentine when he died.

Africanized bees can get upset by loud noises such as lawn mowers or any activity near their hives.

If someone is attacked, the person should run to the nearest house or car. Bees will become disoriented inside, Powell said. He also recommended putting a jacket around your head while running from a swarm.

Professional exterminators will remove a wild bee nest.

The Agriculture Commissioner's office has a 24-hour bee hotline at 337-5836 or (800) 533-5110. Powell said to call 911 first in any serious medical emergency.

Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or

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