nat 63

Killer bees sting LV woman more than 500 times

By Joe Schoenmann

      A swarm of killer bees attacked a Las Vegas resident Monday morning, stinging the 77-year-old woman about 500 times.

      "She had in excess of 500 stings on her arms, chest, face and head," city Fire Department spokesman Tim Szymanski said. The woman, whose name was not released, was listed in critical condition at University Medical Center on Monday afternoon after she was rescued by the Fire Department. Szymanski said the state Agriculture Department confirmed late Monday that the insects were Africanized bees, commonly known as killer bees. Szymanski said firefighters were called to the 400 block of North Maryland Parkway, beneath the U.S. Highway 95 overpass, about 9:45 a.m. Several witnesses called 911 to report the attack, and two Las Vegas police officers in squad cars had stopped to help her. But even the police couldn't handle it, noted Szymanski, who said they got back into their cars after being attacked themselves. "They just don't have the equipment to deal with something like this," Szymanski added. Witnesses said they saw the woman swatting at the bees. When Fire Department personnel arrived, they found her sitting on the curb -- covered with bees. "She was sitting on the curb and not doing anything," he said. Firefighters wearing Stingshields -- essentially a plastic bubble with air holes that is placed around their heads to keep from getting stung -- doused the woman with water to get an estimated 200 bees off her body. Then they took her to the hospital. Hospital personnel used tweezers to scrape stingers off her body and duct tape to pull them off. "I would say she's lucky to be alive," Szymanski said. Exterminator Rodney Mehring, owner of Beemaster of Las Vegas, said a hive was found in a tree in the back yard of a 12th Street home, about 80 feet away from where the woman was found. He sprayed poison into the hollow of the tree and killed the bees with foam. Szymanski said the tree's owner agreed to cut down the tree to keep it from becoming a home to any more bees. Szymanski said the woman, who lives a few streets away, was walking when the bees attacked. Investigators believe the bees may have been drawn to something in a bag she carried. "They kept attacking that bag," said Szymanski, who did not know what was inside.  The attack was the second in the Las Vegas area since January. On Feb. 9, a 79-year-old man pounding a stick against his back yard fence was attacked by killer bees that had formed a hive inside. He was stung about 30 times and survived the attack. In October 1999, a swarm of the bees killed a dog and attacked a Las Vegas girl who was trying protect the animal. The girl was not seriously hurt.
      Africanized bees, a tropical variety known for aggressive behavior, began their migration northward in 1957 after accidentally being released from an apiary in Brazil. Spreading at a rate of about 200 miles a year, they flew from the northern part of South America to Panama, some 3,200 miles, by 1982. They reached southern Mexico, another 1,100 miles away, in 1986. The first swarm was reported in the United States in Hidalgo, Texas, on Oct. 15, 1990. The bees appeared in Arizona, New Mexico and California in 1994.
      They were first spotted in Las Vegas in August 1998 No deaths from the bees have been reported in Nevada.
      During their trek, the bees have killed hundreds of people. Although their sting is only as venomous as that of the European honey bee, killer bees are more deadly because they attack more quickly and in much larger numbers.
      By January 1999, the bees had killed an estimated 1,000 people in South America and 182 in Mexico. Five deaths were recorded in the United States between 1990 and 1996. Last summer, an 83-year-old Long Beach, Calif., man mowing his lawn died after being stung at least 50 times.

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