Thousands of worker bees that had been swarming in the 500 block of East Yosemite Avenue and up Fremont Street for the last several days – apparently totally lost without a hive – focused on a half-filled soda cup for its sugar content Wednesday.
The problem was that soda cup had been left on the lip of a mail slot in the front of a church building owned by the Korean Seventh-day Adventist Church with space rented to the Yosemite Bible Church. While the soda was their first interest it did lead into the interior of the church.
It was around noon when the swarm caught the attention of pedestrians and motorists alike, buzzing around the crown of the church roof. When they were drawn to the soft drink container they landed en masse on the front of the church at a three- to four-foot-high level. There was an obvious danger to unsuspecting pedestrians, especially students who might be paying more attention to texting as they walked by the bees.
Two men on bicycles rode past the swarm about 15 minutes apart, not noticing the colony until they were adjacent to the bees – then making identical sharp left turns into traffic. It easily could have been tragic end, worse than a bee sting.
The concern of two Manteca men focused on the chance high school students might be stung if they unknowingly disturbed the bees. Aaron Snyder had come walking toward them himself when he was called a warning from someone across the street telling him of the danger ahead of him.
He and photographer-videographer Bob Whitaker decided to join forces and do something about the situation. They ran in opposite directions and searched out yellow caution tape and orange stanchions and a barricade to keep pedestrians away from the chest-high mass of bees. They strung the caution tape out around the front of the building.
A motorcycle officer rode up to the men, seeing the precautions that were being put in place and said it looked like they had it all under control urging them to call in if they needed additional help.
Whitaker had the phone number of a beekeeper in Denair, just outside of Turlock, who agreed to drive to Manteca. It would take him about an hour to get here as he was out in the field on his tractor. He would find more of a challenge when he got to Manteca, because it wasn’t just coaxing the bees into a box with a queen to lure them. Many of the bees had found their way into the church lobby. The insects covered the inside of the glass doors and many were dying before their time in their fruitless search for their queen.
Beekeeper John Silveria arrived on the scene at about 2:30, but faced the further frustration of getting into the building – the doors were locked – no one was inside. The phone number on a church sign had been reassigned to a home where the residents knew nothing of the church.
Manteca Police emergency dispatchers located the key holder to the building who was in North Stockton. After he was eventually contacted it took another 30 minutes for him to drive to Manteca. The beekeeper had a timeline and had to be on his way home for a meeting by 4 p.m. He had to work quickly.
The Korean church minister, Seung Kim, voiced his appreciation toward the community effort and concern for the infestation in his building. He opened the front door for the white-suited Silveria – who used his gloved hands to scoop up bees and carry them to the white wooden box outside. He had located the queen and she served as a drawing card for her subjects.
The beekeeper cautioned that the bees that had left the church on their pollinating mission would return in the early evening and probably cluster near the mail slot again since they had no hive to congregate for the night.