By Diana Hefley,
Everett Herald writer
LYNNWOOD — It was a morning commute like no other.
A semi-truck hauling more than 13 million honeybees overturned on I-5 near Lynnwood last month. As the sun rose higher and temperatures warmed the bees made it clear they weren’t happy about the unexpected stop.
One Washington State Patrol trooper described the bees as a fuzzy cloud. Bees coated patrol cars and fire trucks and stung crews. Drivers and looky-loos were warned to keep their windows up. Beekeepers were called in to help with the 448 hives.
Troopers have since cited the truck driver with second-degree negligent driving and issued him a $550 ticket. The man was exiting northbound I-405 and merging onto I-5 around 3:30 a.m. April 17 when he lost control and dumped the hives.
The Idaho man, 36, was driving too fast for conditions and the weight of the semi-truck, trooper Mark Francis said Tuesday.
The wreck backed up traffic for miles. Eventually firefighters sprayed foam on the buzzing boxes. A front loader scooped up the dead hives and dump trucks hauled them off.
The state Department of Transportation is billing the driver’s insurance company $6,400 for costs associated with traffic control and the extra crews needed to get the freeway moving again, spokeswoman Harmony Weinberg said.
“It takes a lot of people to come up with a plan when you’re dealing with a truckload of bees,” she said.
The hives belonged to Eric and Heather Thompson, who own Belleville Honey and Beekeeping Supplies in Burlington.
The Thompsons are still figuring out how much the wreck cost their business. The truck, which they own, is a total loss. They’ll likely be able to repair the trailer. They were only able to salvage 72 hives. The Thompsons have about 7,500 hives, which farmers use to pollinate their crops. They also harvest honey from their bees.
The destroyed hives accounted for about 5 percent of their bee population, Heather Thompson said. It likely will take until January for the Thompsons to recoup the lost hives and bees.
“We’re rolling with the punches,” Heather Thompson said. “It’s been hard. We know what hard work is about, though.”
The Thompsons went into the bee business in 1998. They started out with about 100 hives. Her husband took an interest in bees through the Boy Scouts when he was in elementary school.
The spilled bees were headed to a blueberry farm in Lynden. The Thompsons had to rent bees to fulfill their contract with the blueberry farmer.
They’ve dealt with lost bees before. It’s just never created such a stir, Thompson said.
Accidents aren’t unheard of but often happen on country roads, not a major freeway, she said.
“If it happened out on rural area we probably would have been able to salvage more,” Thompson said. “We could have brought in new boxes and given the bees a day to let them figure out where they were. You can’t do that on a busy freeway.”
The Thompsons are grateful that no one was seriously hurt. They also are taking the opportunity to teach people about bees and their importance to food production.