KNIGHTDALE — It started as a routine stop to help a disabled tractor-trailer Tuesday morning on the Smithfield Road exit off U.S. 64.
But when Brandon Jenkins, a Wake master deputy, arrived to help, about 50,000 honeybees were swarming the stalled vehicle.
"About 60 or so boxes of bees had fallen off the truck," said sheriff's spokeswoman Phyllis Stephens.
Driver Kenneth Marshall was en route from Dobson to Rocky Mount, so Jenkins contacted a Rocky Mount tow service. The tow truck driver and Jenkins helped Marshall put the boxes back onto the truck while the bees continued to swarm.
"They were the Italian variety," Stephens said. "They are not aggressive and not dangerous. But there was some concern because it was close to a neighborhood."
Marshall told Jenkins that the swarming bees would likely follow the truck holding the boxes when it pulled away.
The bees had a different idea.
By the time Jenkins got back into his cruiser and shut the door of his patrol car, it was covered in the insects.
Outnumbered 50,000 to one, Jenkins called 911 and waited.
The 911 dispatcher phoned the state Department of Agriculture, which sent out Jennifer Keller from N.C. State University. Charles Heatherly, past president of the N.C. Beekeepers Association, who lives nearby, also arrived to help the bee-trapped deputy.
Heatherly said that when he arrived, five or six sheriff's cruisers were on the scene, but the deputies were in their cars, out of stinging range.
It's common for bee-carrying trucks to use that route, traveling to Eastern North Carolina where melons and cucumbers are being pollinated, Heatherly said. But it was highly unusual for bees to swarm in such a large group.
"I've never seen that before, spread all over the car," Heatherly said.
"They usually spread in small groups about the size of a basketball."
He said the bees were probably hot, thirsty and looking for their queen.
Since it was past lunchtime, the two bee specialists sprayed the swarm with sugar water.
"They started licking it off each other," Stephens said. "That distracted them."
Keller and Heatherly then used smoke to calm the bees and usher them into a box. A relieved Jenkins emerged from his patrol car unscathed and, best of all, un-stung.
Heatherly has the bees at his home.
"The deputies were absolutely happy for me to take possession of them," he said.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-829-4533