WILMINGTON, Del. -- State police had more than a wrecked truck to deal with after a Tuesday evening crash near Newark.
An estimated 16 million to 20 million of them.
The truck was hauling 460 hives of honey bees from Florida to Maine when it overturned onto its side at about 6:10 p.m. EDT Tuesday on an on-ramp to northbound I-95, Sgt. Paul G. Shavack said.
The 55-year-old truck driver and two passengers, men ages 24 and 25, were taken by ambulance to Christiana Hospital, Shavack said.
The driver had a minor arm injury and all three men were stung by an estimated 50 to 100 bees, he said.
Traffic was diverted for hours as the spilled swarm was so massive police couldn't "even get close to the truck," Shavack said. Traffic was diverted as much for the bees as the wreck, he said.
Corinna Groncki of Rising Sun, Md., who was driving on I-95 just after the crash, "saw the driver climb out of the truck and take off running." She also saw one of the younger men "running in traffic, ripping his shirt off and smacking himself," as cars swerved to avoid him.
"We couldn't believe he didn't get hit," she said.
The spill prompted state police to call in beekeepers. Instead of trying to round up the bees, he said, they suggested dispersing swarms with water.
So firefighters from the Aetna Hose Hook & Ladder Company of Newark, coordinating with state troopers, began "hosing down the bees," Shavack said.
But thick swarms continued to buzz around the wreck, he said. Police had to get rid of the bees before they could remove the tractor-trailer safely, he said.
Shavack said the response to the bee release was not impromptu because state police had a "what-if" plan ready to activate.
The "bee swarm removal procedure" included a list of experts to contact, he added.
"We got a hold of one of those bee providers and he came right out," he said. "He called for additional resources."
As far as the communication center staff members know, Shavack said, "this is the first time we've actually activated the plan."
The bee-hosing continued through dusk, but was not to last much longer. The bee experts advised police that "when it's dark, the bees won't fly, the bees will crawl," Shavack said.
With nightfall, he said, the bee handlers could begin examining the crated hives to see if any could be salvaged before the truck was righted and hauled away.
And the fate of the bees?
Their long haul is over.
The salvaging keepers – not identified by police – get to keep them. "They were authorized to do that by the trucking company," Shavack said.
No estimate was available of the full bee cargo's value or the count and value of those being salvaged.