April 30, 2009

Tip List: Downtown abuzz with problem bees

Tuesday afternoon the police scanner in the Sun-Star's newsroom started squawking about a swarm of bees buzzing the people outside the former Hotel Tioga. People were running in the road. Bees filled the air. Chaos reigned.

All of this was relayed over the radio by the distinct voice of Undersheriff Bill Blake. He was talking to a dispatcher, saying that people were running away from a dark swarm of bees hovering over Main Street outside of the Tioga. He asked the dispatcher if she had notified the building owner or the city. The dispatcher said she'd called both -- and neither the city nor the hotel would deal with the bees.

"As long as they know," said Blake. "It's fun to watch," he continued. "Somebody's going to get hurt or at least get hit by a car if they're not careful."

When I called Blake on Wednesday, he told me about the scene he'd come upon as he almost drove into the swarm. "I saw people scattering in one direction," he recalled. "It was almost comical."

Eventually the Merced County Sheriff's Department called a gentleman who works for the county known as the "bee guy." Fred Michaelis, who keeps his own bees, came out and took the swarm away.

Michaelis said when bees swarm they aren't angry. In fact, they are mostly docile, he said. Not only are they full on honey as they look for a new home, but since they are hive-less, they have nothing to defend, he said.

Why no one had decided to do anything about the bee problem until Tuesday is an unanswered question. There had been a problem at the Tioga and across Main Street at the Bank of America for some time. No one had dealt with the issue.

The Tioga Apartments' manager, Kristi Blew, had no comment.

JP Dhillon, a supervisor at Bank of America, said the bank didn't know anything about a bee problem in its parking lot. "We were not aware of that, to tell you the truth, actually," he said.

Floyd Higdon, a Merced Police Department's spokesman, said the department responds to bee swarms. The dispatcher who said they don't was new and therefore didn't know the policy, he said.

In any case, apparently the undersheriff had to drive into a swarm of bees for anything to be done. If not, the bees might still be chasing people away from the Bank of America and the Tioga building.

What's wrong: bees have been swarming on Main Street.

Who's responsible: The Bank of America and the Tioga Apartments, for failing to notice the problem or do anything about it.

If you see something broken or in need of repair in your neighborhood, call the Sun-Star Tip List reporter, Jonah Owen Lamb, with your tips at (209) 385-2484 or e-mail jlamb@mercedsun-star.com.

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