Top 10 Killer Bee Attacks in Arizona | Valley Fever | Phoenix | Phoenix New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Phoenix, Arizona

Top 10 Killer Bee Attacks in Arizona

While tragic and horrifying, the swarming-bee attack that killed a 32-year-old landscaper in Douglas on Wednesday was not a freak occurrence in Arizona. Stories about bee attacks and bee deaths appear regularly in the state -- perhaps once a year or more. While not as common as lightning deaths, most...
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While tragic and horrifying, the swarming-bee attack that killed a 32-year-old landscaper in Douglas on Wednesday was not a freak occurrence in Arizona.

Stories about bee attacks and bee deaths appear regularly in the state -- perhaps once a year or more. While not as common as lightning deaths, most people would prefer lightning to death by stinging insects. When the Irwin Allen disaster flick "The Swarm" was released in 1978, few people realized that it contained more than a grain of truth for Arizonans, who in the last two decades have seen more than their fair share of bee-affiliated violence.

You probably know the story of the Brazilian scientist who managed to let an African queen bee escape in the 1950s. Over the next few decades, families of bees made their way north until finally reaching Texas in 1991, where Jesus Lopez had the honor of being the first person to be stung by them. He survived with just 18 stings. Two years later, Lino Lopez, 82, became the first person the United States to be killed by the Africanized bees.

The bees reached Arizona in June of 1993, according to the University of Arizona.

With interest over Arizona's bees at high buzz, New Times has put together a list of some of the worst episodes of bee death and destruction in the state:

10. Sometimes being No. 1 sucks. In October of 1995, Apache Junction resident Mary Williams, 88, became the first Arizonan to die from a killer-bee attack. Swarmed just outside of her home, experts estimated the elderly woman was stung more than 1,000 times.

9. This week's 800,000-bee attack in Douglas. One person died and four others were injured. One of the most amazing things about this bee story was how many news outlets picked it up. While Arizonans have seen these stories many times before, they always get our attention -- because we know the victim could just as easily have been us.

8. Calling the game due to bees. In March of 2012, a swarm of bees halted a spring-training game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Francisco Giants. No one was stung, but the bees chased pitcher Darren Oliver from the mound. He later said he thought his hair gel might have attracted them. It wasn't the first time bees have disrupted a baseball game in Arizona, either. In 2005, bees stopped a game in Tucson after five innings. They also delayed the start of a D-backs game earlier this year.

7. Lovers of the outdoors: Bee-ware. Several of our examples involve Arizona climbers and hikers who could not easily escape a swarming attack by running away. In May of 2013, Tucson climber Steven Johnson's body was found hanging in his harness about 70 feet off the ground on a crag in the Santa Catalina mountains. His dog was found near him, also dead. Both man and canine had been stung countless times. Johnson died from "mass envenomation," which is when the build-up of each little sting adds up to an amount that no human can handle. Experts estimate that's about 10 stings per pound of body weight, or about 1,700 stings for a 170-pound man.

6. Family outing turns into horror movie. Also in May of 2013, a family hiking in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness in the Santa Catalinas near Tucson was swarmed. Five hikers were stung, including three stung more than 100-200 times. A 6-year-old boy was among the victims -- he was showing signs of going into shock when he finally got to a hospital, but everyone survived.

5. No escape. A swarm aggravated by unknown causes descended on three men working on a house in an unincorporated part of Yavapai County in September of 2011, killing one and injuring two others. Walter Coughran, 65, reportedly made it as far as a neighbor's porch before he collapsed and died.

4. Think you're tough as a hog? What was described as a "black cloud" of bees blitzed a farm in Bisbee in September of 2011, stinging man and beasts. The bees killed a 1,000-pound hog and put an 800-pound hog in a coma. Paltry humans, clearly, don't stand a chance against this sort of threat. Experts say your best defense is to run away as fast as you can. Pull your shirt over your face to avoid stings in the eyes and mouth. It's possible the bees may follow you for up to a quarter-mile. If you try to escape them by jumping in water, they will sometimes wait for you to come up for air.

3. Danger lurks just walking down the street. In March of 2010, three people were attacked while walking on the sidewalk near Third Avenue and Bell Road. Two people were hospitalized in critical condition. Witnesses told reporters that two of the female victims appeared to have their faces covered with bees.

2. Bees cause falls. Joshua Ruzsa, 19, lost his life in October of 2012 when a swarm hit him and his friends as they were climbing a rock face at Camelback Mountain. The bees didn't kill Ruzsa directly. After the attack began, he fell an estimated 60 feet to the ground. His two friends hunkered down on a small ledge and were stung hundreds of times each. A TV news chopper caught dramatic footage of the rescue, which involved a helicopter lowering Phoenix firefighters dressed in bees suits onto the ledge. The incident was eerily similar to a 2004 tragedy in which Peoria schoolteacher Keith Abbe fell to his death at Camelback while being attacked by bees.

1. Barely alive. Tucson rock climber Robert Mackley was stung an estimated 1,500 times in August of 2010 on a Mt. Lemmon crag. Another man, a woman and a toddler were also stung in the attack. But Mackley, while helping his climber partners lower to the deck on a rope, found himself stuck due to a jammed knot. For three hours, the bees peppered him with their assault. He described fading in and out of consciousness, believing he was going to die as one bee after another plunged their stingers into his skin. He later told New Times he counted 90 sting marks on just one hand.

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