Arizona golf course worker dies after being attacked by swarm of bees

Arizona golf course worker dies after being attacked by swarm of bees

A golf course worker in southern Arizona died last month after being attacked by a swarm of bees while on the job, his employer said. 

Rick Messina, 57, was a member of the agronomy team at El Conquistador Golf & Tennis in Oro Valley, just north of Tuscon, where he helped maintain the property grounds. He was stung on the morning of June 24 near the eighth hole at Pusch Ridge Golf Course, which is one of three courses run by El Conquistador, and it was “a tragic workplace accident,” according to a statement from the club’s managers.

Messina had been mowing the rough around the Pusch Ridge course when the swarm attacked. Emergency services took him to a local hospital, and he died three days later, on June 27, from complications due to the bee stings, according to the statement. Messina had been employed as a groundskeeper by El Conquistador since July 2022.

The club’s management team said that professional beekeepers were called on the afternoon of the attack to inspect the area immediately around the eighth hole at Pusch Ridge for beehives or other remnants of the swarm, which weren’t found. Citing local experts, their statement noted that summer is “peak season for bee swarms” and advised members of El Conquistador to be vigilant in the coming months. Because beekeepers did not find evidence of the bees that attacked Messina, the swarm was likely a traveling one, the team said.

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Thousands of bees cluster on a tree branch as they swarm outside of the Agriculture Department headquarters on the National Mall on April 08, 2024, in Washington, D.C.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“Rick was a dedicated and cherished member of our team, known for his exceptional work ethic, positive attitude, and unwavering commitment to his duties,” the statement said. “His sudden passing is a profound loss to our work family and our community. He will be deeply missed by all.”

Darryl Janisse, the general manager of El Conquistador Golf, sent an email to members of the club notifying them of the attack and Messina’s death. 

“It is with a heavy heart that I am emailing our membership with a tragic incident that took place at Pusch Ridge involving one of our work associates and a swarm of bees,” Janisse wrote in the email. He added that all 45 holes on the club’s courses had been inspected for beehives and bee activity.

Janisse said that the club would establish safety protocols in the wake of the attack, including adding signage to remind people “to always be watchful of wildlife and venomous creatures” and continuing to train staff on bee safety. 

El Conquistador Golf and Indigo Sports, a golf course management company, said it was directing resources toward supporting Messina’s family and staff at El Conquistador, although further details were not provided. 

Arizona is home to a number of different bee species, and experts have said that most do not typically pose serious threats to humans unless they are provoked. However, researchers at the University of Arizona and the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture based in Tuscon, have also warned that bees’ behavior may be unpredictable and potentially aggressive. Africanized honey bees, for example, which can be found in Arizona, are known as “killer bees” for their marked persistence during an attack and the potential for their toxins to severely damage the human body, sometimes fatally. 

People are urged to avoid areas where there are signs of bee colonies as well as any moving swarms. The Tuscon research center noted that bees can become triggered unexpectedly and then defensively attack. Some possible triggers for bees include noisy machinery, and any clothing that is textured, dark in color or made from leather.

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