MARBLEHEAD - Stephanie Scogland's eyes opened wide yesterday as she described how people reacted to more than 1,000 angry honeybees that took over her neighborhood after escaping from a local beekeeper's hive.
"We saw all my neighbors around here acting kind of crazy," she said as she pantomimed people running down Rockaway Avenue Sunday morning while furiously swatting at bees gathering around their heads. "We definitely could not be outside at all."
Around the corner from Scogland's house, beekeeper Paul Price stood on his front lawn yesterday, explaining how the expensive hobby of his retirement years suddenly went awry. Price said he has kept two hives in his Warren Road backyard without incident for a decade - until last weekend.
Several people and pets were stung by the bees, which Price estimated numbered at least 1,000, and residents had to stay inside until nightfall when the bees finally gathered at Price's home. He captured them and destroyed them in his basement, he said.
"There were bees flying everywhere," Price, 74, said. "There was real pandemonium."
Natalie Brown, who lives across the street from Price, said people moved faster than usual while walking through the neighborhood, popular among dog walkers, and kept their hands moving, too. "It was nuts," she said. "People were swatting like crazy."
During the past three weeks, Price said, his bees had become increasingly aggressive. He decided to move his two hives to a farm in Essex about 10 a.m. on Sunday. The keeper closed off the entrance to the hive with screen mesh and was loading the hive onto the truck when the mesh gave way.
"Suddenly, we were getting bees pouring out," Price said. By the time he donned protective gear and fixed the mesh, he said, the bees had fled.
Price said that he started driving to Essex and that some bees followed the truck onto Rockaway Avenue. "There was nothing further we could do," he said. "We can't put the genie back in the bottle, so to speak."
Marblehead Police Chief Robert O. Picariello and Wayne O. Attridge, executive director of the town Board of Health, said no complaints had been received about Price and his bees before the incident. Police called in the town animal control officer to help handle the situation, the chief said.
Attridge said he does not believe beekeeping is regulated by state law or town code. He said the town once forced a negligent beekeeper to move hives out of town. No official complaints have been received about Price since the attack, Attridge said.
Price said that after lifting up the hives he discovered some signs that a beetle that preys on bees apparently had moved in, which might explain the bees' behavior.
"My concern is that people are really getting afraid of bees," he said. "This was really an anomaly."
Price said he has harvested more than 125 pounds of honey a year and has participated in educational bee displays with an Essex County beekeepers group. But he will not be bringing his bees back anytime soon.
"Not yet, not yet," he said. "Obviously, I want to do what I can to ease the situation with the neighbors."