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Man seeks two girls he saved from stings

He swiped away at yellow jackets attacking the girls. After they left, he set out to find the girls and the insect nest.

By NATALIE BAUGHMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 17, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Jeff McChesney secured his 8-month-old twin daughters into their car seats last Saturday. Then he heard the cries for help.

About a block away, at the Pinellas Trail near 80th Street and 33rd Avenue, two girls walked rapidly toward him.

"They kept yelling, "Please help us, please help,' " McChesney said. "That's when I saw the yellow jackets."

They swarmed around and stung the uncovered skin of the girls. As a service manager for the Bug Man, a pest control company in Gulfport, McChesney knew what to do to kill the insects. And as a father of two, he knew how he would feel if the yellow jackets were attacking his girls.

"I couldn't just stand there and watch the girls suffer," he said. "I had to do something -- fast."

Most of the yellow jackets attacked one girl. McChesney used one hand to swat the insects off her and the other to swipe her with a palm frond. Minutes later, an ambulance that neighbors had called pulled up to take the girl to the hospital.

McChesney never saw the girl again, but for the next few days he wondered how she was and where he could find the nest.

By Monday afternoon, McChesney couldn't stand the suspense. He left work and spent 21/2 hours on the Pinellas Trail. He leaned over metal fences and looked for anything that resembled the grayish, papier-mache-like nest of a yellow jacket.

"I looked everywhere for that thing," he said. "I walked a mile in each direction from where the girls were stung. But I didn't find any trace of the nest."

He also was determined to find the girl and her friend. He canvassed the nearby streets, knocked on doors and talked to neighbors.

He had no luck, but he would try again.

Removing the pests

Yellow-jacket nests are prolific now because the end of summer marks the end of the yellow jacket's development season, said Jon Simkins, an entomologist and beekeeper for Insect IQ Inc. in Tampa.

Queen bees leave their nests in early spring to mate and form new nests. Then they lay their eggs, and the young hatch 29 days later.

By May, the young have begun to add to the nests -- collecting bark from trees and mixing it with saliva. By summer's end, the young are fully grown and ready to start the cycle over again.

Dan Schoeneman starts his days by strapping on a clear suit with elastic bands around the wrists and ankles, placing a hood on top of his head and lowering a plastic screen over his face.

He looks like he's about to venture into outer space. He owns A-Tech Pest Control and his job is to wipe out yellow-jacket nests.

Schoeneman too often gets a phone call from an unlucky homeowner who found yellow jackets by mistake -- stumbling upon them while mowing the lawn or weeding their gardens.

"The worst nest I ever saw was one leaning against a nursery fence in Clearwater," Schoeneman said. "It must have been 3 feet wide and 4 feet tall."

But after a couple of hours of spraying the nest with chemicals and hacking away at the stiff, grayish material, Schoeneman finally removed it.

Besides its large size, the nest in Clearwater is much like other nests Schoeneman has encountered over the years. He has found them on fences, buried in backyards or stuck on the sides of drainage ditches.

Treating the stings

Allison Brent, medical director of the emergency room at All Children's Hospital, has seen a variety of yellow jacket bites -- some minor, some severe, but all painful.

For single bites, Brent applies a cool compress and sometimes gives an oral antihistamine. For multiple bites -- which sometimes can prompt a toxic reaction -- she gives a cool compress, an IV to replace lost fluids, a dose of over-the-counter pain reliever and a topical steroid.

For patients who are allergic to yellow jackets, Brent said the reactions can be severe. A closed airway can cause a person to pass out and stop breathing.

"Those types of reactions are really scary because people could die if they're not treated immediately," she said. "They may need life-support devices, in additional to the usual sting treatments."

Brent said the key to preventing a severe reaction is to make sure the stinger is not lodged inside the victim. The stinger can be pulled out or removed with a needle.

The search ends

McChesney left work early again Tuesday to find the girls and the yellow jacket nest.

"You have no idea how frustrating it can be to know you've helped someone and not to know what happened to them," he said. "I couldn't settle with the idea that they were probably okay. I had to know for sure."

He scoured the walls of an underpass near Tyrone Mall for a nest but found nothing. Looking for the girls again, he interviewed neighborhood kids.

A child led McChesney to 3413 74th St. N. He knocked on the door and wondered who would answer. Seconds later, he was introduced to Autumn Patterson, 14.

"I told him I was walking in deep grass, along the side of a ditch when I was stung," Autumn said. "All of a sudden, my friend, Jessica Smith, tripped over something. Then a whole bunch of yellow jackets flew toward us."

Autumn was stung nine times, Jessica, 15. Autumn required no medical treatment, and Jessica needed just 45 minutes in the emergency room, Autumn said.

After eight hours of trying to satisfy his curiosity, McChesney had located one of the girls. He never did find the other girl or the yellow jackets' home.

"I stopped to help those girls out of the goodness of my heart," McChesney said. "I don't feel any sense of relief about the outcome. I really, really wanted to find that nest. And I wanted to talk to Jessica."

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