When Jim Kunze heard the screams, he knew.
The yellow jackets attacked.
Kunze grabbed his beekeeping mask, veil and gloves and headed in the direction of the screams.
He drove around the corner and found David Alvarez and his 7-year-old son, Jordan, were being attacked by yellow jackets. Kunze picked up Jordan and put him in his truck, but the wasps were still attacking Alvarez.
“It was probably 15 or 20 of them still attacking him,” said Kunze , a beekeeper for more than 20 years who called the situation “horrifying” and “traumatic.” “I was pinching them dead from all parts of his body. Thank goodness (the EMTs) got there quick and transported them quickly.”
Alvarez and Jordan remain hospitalized, according to family members. Alvarez’s aunt, Maggie Ramia, of Apopka, said Jordan is improving, but his father remains in critical condition and in the intensive care unit.
“We are praying to God every day that they get better,” she said.
A 911 call released Tuesday details the “swarming attack” that injured the father and son walking their dog inAltamonte Springs on June 18.
“Two people just came out of the woods, covered in bees and yelling for help,” the 911 caller told dispatchers. “They’re saying they can’t breathe.”
Ramia said Alvarez, Jordan and their dog were walking along Little Wekiva River near where Alvarez’s grandmother lives when one of them apparently stepped on the subterranean nest. Kunze estimates Alvarez had more than 300 stings.
The dog, China, was stung and taken to the vet for treatment; she is doing better, family members said.
The 911 caller reported the incident from his car parked on Mahogany Lane near Trout Lake, where he sat with the windows closed because the insects were swarming everywhere.
“Ah. One of them got in my car, stinging me,” the caller said. “The man is laying down, looking like he might be about to pass out. The boy is sitting up, screaming.”
The caller then had to get out of his car to battle one of the insects that had gotten inside his shirt. The dispatcher continued to ask him about the victims, who he said were screaming in pain.
Paramedics arrived at 7:40 p.m. At that time, the victims were conscious and breathing. Two emergency responders were stung while trying to assist the victims, a dispatch report said.
Because Alvarez has reacted so seriously to the stings, Ramia said family members believe he may have been allergic.
It has been a trying time for the family, especially because they often took walks in the area, said Ramia.
“This is such a weird thing,” said Ramia. “They grew up around here and this never happened. This is something that is out of this world.”
Ramia has visited the two in the hospital. She likened their bodies to someone who is “completely covered” with measles.
She said the family was thankful that Kunze was nearby.
“If it wouldn’t have been for him, who’s going to go near them?” she said.
Jeffrey Jones, Alvarez’s father-in-law, said his daughter is going back and forth between Florida Hospital in Altamonte and Florida Hospital in Orlando to check on her husband and son. Alvarez and his wife also have an infant child.
“It’s killing her not being with the baby,” Jones said.
Edmund Thralls, an urban horticulture agent in Orange County, said multiple stings from wasps, hornets or bees can send a person into shock — or even kill them — depending on how sensitive their body is to the stinger’s venom.
“There can be thousands of [yellow jackets] in the nest and they can defend their home very aggressively,” Thralls said.
Thralls described wasps, hornets and bees as being in the same insect family. But they differ in feeding habits, personality and body design, he said.
Bees have hairy bodies. They live off pollen and nectar, which is why they are attracted to flowers. Bees can only sting once — whereas wasps can sting multiple times.
Wasps generally have a minor role in pollination and less body hair. They are categorized into three types: parasitic, solitary hunting and social wasps.
“Parasitic and many hunting wasps are considered beneficial because they eat insects and use insects as a place to lay their eggs,” Thralls said.
But the social wasps — yellow jackets, for example — live in large, underground colonies mostly and attack when they feel threatened, Thralls said.
As for hornets, Thralls said they build nests above ground and aren’t usually involved in massive stinging incidents.
“The most common are the yellow jackets, accounting for the overwhelming majority of stinging incidents in the [Florida],” Thralls said.
Wasps, bees and hornets tend to be a nuisance year-round in Florida because of the warm climate. They usually build their nests in the spring, and are fully active through the fall.
“Advice for people is just to be vigilant,” Thralls said. “Know your surrounding and know if you’re allergic to the venom.”