Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tree trimmer, back after bee stings, knocks down power pole in Safety Harbor

SAFETY HARBOR — The Africanized honeybees swarmed the tree trimmer's head and within seconds, his whole body.

"They were inside my ears, my mouth, my nose — everywhere," Ralph St. Peter said Monday, two days after the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said he was stung as many as 150 times. "They had to cut my clothes off. My whole body was encased in bees."

He said the stings of the bees felt "like a 1,000 hypodermic needles" or "a tetanus shot."

Co-worker Michael Foster, who swatted off the bees with his bare hands and also was stung, said St. Peter was swollen to the point that he looked like another "one-and-a-half persons, like he got hit by a truck."

Both men were taken to Mease Countryside Hospital. Doctors treated St. Peter on Saturday and released him Sunday.

Monday morning, sting marks still dotting his body, St. Peter returned to Kelly Leavy's Safety Harbor home to finish the work he started.

By afternoon, St. Peter wished he had just listened to his wife and stayed home.

• • •

St. Peter, 44, has been around trees, bees and snakes for 30 years. His dad worked in the industry in his native Connecticut, and St. Peter usually accompanied him on jobs. He said he became a certified arborist and forester in 1986.

St. Peter has his own company, but recently took on additional work with Johnson Lawn and Landscape Service in Tarpon Springs to supplement his income. One of his first assignments: cutting down Kelly Leavy's dead oaks.

He said Leavy told him there was a nest of honeybees. That didn't faze him. He thought there were only 200 or so domestic bees, not 50,000 Africanized ones.

"If you work in trees," he said, "you're going to be stung."

St. Peter, who moved to Florida in 2003 and lives in Weeki Wachee, estimates bees sting him at least 10 times a week. He said he's been bitten by rattlesnakes.

Doctors "said my immune system was really good for bites and stings and stuff like that," he said.

St. Peter said he's heard of the Africanized honeybee, but all of his encounters have been with domestic honeybees.

Florida's Africanized honeybee population is increasing, according to University of Florida researchers. They are referred to — often and inaccurately — as aggressive killer bees. The bees do not plot attacks on humans, James D. Ellis Jr. and Faith M. Oi said in a 2006 study. They react to human invasion of their environment and defend themselves when necessary. Attacks occur when people get too close to a nesting colony of bees.

That's exactly what happened about 1:45 p.m. Saturday. St. Peter leaned a ladder against a tree and climbed to the top. He attached a safety line to his body so he could rappel down the tree in the event a swarm of bees emerged. His line got stuck in the limbs.

"All of a sudden 50,000 bees came out of the hollow log," he said. "And it's like they came right towards me. It was amazing. The cloud of bees was so thick you couldn't see through it."

He screamed to his colleagues for help. "But every time I opened my mouth, my mouth would get full of bees and I'd have to spit more bees out," he said. "And finally they understood (to) get me a knife so they got me a knife and I cut myself down and we all ran over to the picnic tables over there."

Doctors gave him pain medicine, and the swelling subsided. His wife begged him to stay home Monday. He said he was fine, that he could work through the tingling feeling in his skin.

St. Peter said he couldn't afford to take a day off. He's the sole breadwinner and the father of four. He only earns $15 an hour.

He didn't think anything else would happen.

• • •

Around midday, St. Peter revved up the orange chainsaw.

The first limb fell without incident. Then he moved to the next.

He tied one end of a rope around the limb and the other on the front of the company truck. He told Foster, the co-worker, to put the vehicle in reverse.

The limb fell to the ground, but not before taking out a power pole and live electrical wires.

"This is like the job from hell," Foster said, just before Safety Harbor Fire and Progress Energy arrived. "I don't want to see this place again."

There were no injuries, Safety Harbor Fire Chief Joe Accetta said. Progress Energy spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said the company couldn't find any evidence of an outage in its system.

St. Peter put down his chainsaw.

"This has never happened to me before — ever," he said.

"What a nightmare. I just wanted to finish the job."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.

Tree trimmer, back after bee stings, knocks down power pole in Safety Harbor 08/09/10 [Last modified: Monday, August 9, 2010 11:52pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Photo gallery: Calvary Christian rolls to state title


    View a gallery of images from Calvary Christian's defeat of Pensacola Catholic 11-1 in six innings Saturday night at Hammond Stadium in Ft. Myers for the Class 4A title.

    Calvary Christian players circle up on the field before the FHSAA class 4A baseball championship against Pensacola Catholic on Friday May 27, 2017 at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla. Calvary scored 6 runs in the first inning, and had 7 hits.
  2. Two girls found safe after being reported missing in New Port Richey

    UPDATE: Both girls were found safe Saturday night, police said.

  3. IT failure blamed for British Airways cancellations (w/video)


    LONDON — British Airways canceled all flights from London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports on Saturday as a global IT failure upended the travel plans of tens of thousands of people on a busy U.K. holiday weekend.

    Passengers wait at a British Airways check-in desk after the airport suffered an IT systems failure Saturday at London''s Gatwick Airport. [Associated Press]
  4. Calvary Christian routs Pensacola Catholic to win state baseball title


    FORT MYERS — Calvary Christian left no doubt as to which baseball team in Class 4A was the best in Florida this season. The Warriors defeated Pensacola Catholic 11-1 in six innings Saturday night at Hammond Stadium to claim the school's first state championship in any team sport. It also solidified a 30-0 season. …

    Matheu Nelson celebrates after scoring on a wild pitch during the first inning, when Calvary Christian took a 6-0 lead.
  5. Mayor: Men stabbed after anti-Muslin rant died as 'heroes' (w/video)


    PORTLAND, Ore. — Police said Saturday they'll examine what appears to be the extremist ideology of an Oregon man accused of fatally stabbing two men who tried to intervene when the suspect yelled racial slurs at two young women who appeared to be Muslim on a Portland light-rail train.

    A sign of thanks rests against a traffic light pole at a memorial outside the transit center on Saturday in Portland, Ore. [Associated Press]