Resident, Port St. Lucie in war of words over bees that killed neighbor

PORT ST. LUCIE — When Eileen Wietchy saw her neighbor Lewis Peters crawling on his knees blindly trying to find the safety of his home Oct. 29, she ran to his aid. What she found was horrifying.

Peters, 58, was covered by honey bees and smothered in fire ants — some were even in his eyes. The bees came from a neighbor's tree, having burrowed inside its trunk at ground level.

The city responded by killing two hives of bees, taking out one tree and sealing another hive off.

Wietchy said the city promised to remove the second tree as well — but as of Dec. 31 the tree was still standing on a property next to Wietchy's in Sandpiper Bay — and bees are still being found on her property.

Councilman Jack Kelly , who has made several visits to the site, said he never promised to remove the tree in question and "I never promised to cut that particular tree. We're not going to kill a tree that's not needed (to be killed)."

Wietchy understands otherwise, and still is concerned about a bee presence in her yard.

"Some people are accusing me of overreacting, and I say, 'Overreacting? A man died!' " she said. Lewis died Nov. 23, and his demise was listed as "accidental, stung by bees," according to death records.

The situation has left Wietchy traumatized to the point that when she sees a bee she goes into panic mode. She said bees still are getting into her van and they can be seen buzzing around an air-conditioning unit at a nearby Club Med storage facility.

But Kelly said the city "went in and removed the hives, and we were told by the state that they needed to be killed." Kelly added that the city hired an exterminator to handle the situation.

According to a University of Florida website, exterminating feral hives is not mandated but is recommended in urban situations.

Anita Neal, director of the local University of Florida Agricultural Extension office, said she inspected the hive located in the Sandpiper Bay neighborhood shortly after the bees attacked Peters, and then again on Dec. 31 to confirm they were gone. They were, she said, and the tree in question remains.

"When I got there, I was very cautious because they said the firemen had already been there and lots of times there is still activity. I was very cautious. It was definitely a live hive in a tree stump," Neal said. "I came within less than five feet of them and they never came out at me. I came in from two different directions."

Whether or not the honey bees were "Africanized" bees (more easily provoked than native honey bees, according to Neal) cannot be determined because not enough dead bees were found, Neal explains.

"We have to get 50 at a time ... we never ruled that it was an Africanized," she said.

While Wietchy and some of her neighbors continue to be extra nervous about the presence of any bee, Neal supports the actions taken by the city to control the situation.

"They have plugged up the holes where they were in the trees with expanding foam, and that is what you are supposed to do with cracks and crevices to keep bees out," she said. "And they are definitely gone and the city did take care of them; I didn't see any activity anywhere else."

Neal said sealing the holes in the tree was "the best thing to do when someone is injured. I think they made the right choice."

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