SALT LAKE CITY — Truck driver Louis Holst has never been scared of bees, but he’s rethinking his next long-haul load a day after being swarmed by 25 million of the stinging insects.
Holst and his wife, Tammie, picked up 460 bee hives in South Dakota and were about 36 hours into their drive S
unday night when he hit a sharp bend in a construction zone on Interstate 15 in southern Utah. The twist in the road toppled his trailer and sent the bees into a frenzy.
“First responders came and drug me and my wife through the front window,” Holst said Monday. “Then we panicked.”
Swarmed by bees on the highway, Holst said he ripped off his shirt and began swatting the air. His wife ran.
“We just started swinging our clothes,” he said. “They stung her all up and down her neck.”
Authorities closed the southbound lanes of I-15 near St. George for several hours while area beekeepers headed to the scene to try to corral the insects. The road was reopened early Monday morning, and Holst said most of the bees were either dead or gone.
“Nobody was prepared for anything like that,” he said.
At least two first responders also were stung at the scene, said Utah Highway Patrol Cpl. Todd Johnson.
Holst, 48, of Gig Harbor, Wash., said he got 10 stitches to close a gash on his forehead and was stung about a dozen times. His wife, too, suffered stings, bumps and bruises.
The 25 million bees were headed from Adee Honey Farms in Bruce, S.D., to near Bakersfield, Calif., where they stay for the winter before being used for pollination come spring, company co-owner Richard Adee said.
“It’s pretty much a complete loss,” Adee said of the $116,000 load.
Holst’s trip was among the last of 160 truckloads of bees — roughly 4 billion of them — the farm had been sending south for winter, Adee said.
Asked whether he’d haul bees again anytime soon, Holst — who normally ferries lumber and construction materials — paused.
“Well,” he said, “my wife’s looking at me right now, so I’ll say no.”