AUSTIN (KXAN) — A landscape lighting technician died after he was swarmed by bees at a home in Austin on Thursday, according to a family spokesperson. Franco Galvan Martinez, 53, was suspended by a harness in one of the home’s trees when he inadvertently disturbed a hive and the bees swarmed, a family spokesperson said.
“I guess in [a] panic trying to swat away the bees from himself, he kicked away the ladder,” said Joe Maldonado, a family friend, and pastor.
Galvan Martinez remained suspended in the air by the harness as the insects attacked. “The hive was so ginormous that it literally covered Franco instantly,” Maldonado told KXAN.
A neighbor who did not wish to be identified said they heard Galvan Martinez’s screams for help, adding he appeared to be covered in thousands of bees.
Two of his co-workers below attempted to help but were also stung, they said.
“They were very distraught,” the neighbor told KXAN. “It was horrible.”
“For over 10 minutes, all they could do was endure hearing [Galvan Martinez’s] anguish,” Maldonado said.
Austin-Travis County EMS said first responders were dispatched to a home around 5 p.m. Firefighters used their hoses to blast the bees away and reach the man, according to witnesses.
Maldonado said Galvan Martinez, a married father of two with grandchildren, lived in Seguin.
“He was a very joyful man,” said Maldonado, who confirmed an autopsy of Galvan Martinez is planned.
The family said Galvan Martinez was working for Bill Biggadike & Associates, a landscape and lighting business based in New Braunfels. The company confirmed Friday that one of its workers died, but had no other immediate comment.
A neighbor told KXAN residents have been aware of a beehive in the tree for some time but never experienced any issues.
The Austin Code Department said the case was assigned to an inspector following a call on Friday. A neighbor said an inspector visited the home and took photos that afternoon. The department said there are no prior code complaints at the address.
The owner of the home declined to comment when KXAN visited Friday evening.
Austin Code said a city ordinance regulates the maintenance and management of bee colonies within city limits. However, the ordinance does not apply to wild colonies in tree hollows or stumps. In addition, the city does not provide services for the removal, relocation, or eradication of bees due to state regulations.
Professional beehive remover Mike Lopez said those who encounter hives on their property should leave them alone and call a professional. In the case of an attack, Lopez said the best advice is to keep moving and seek shelter indoors or in a vehicle.
“Under no circumstances do you stop moving,” Lopez said, adding that bees are attracted to the carbon dioxide emitted as humans exhale, making a person’s mouth and nose especially vulnerable.
Lopez said bees also release alarm pheromones after stinging a person or animal, signaling other bees to join the attack.
“Once you have one, then you’ll have two, then you’ll have 16,” he said. “And it will keep on until you have thousands on you.”