Friday, April 26, 2024

Insight: Flaming chickens and angry bees

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

When you work as a journalist in Florida for any length of time, as I did, it’s a certainty that you will write more than your fair share of strange articles about some of the weirdest activities and events.

Not to say odd things don’t happen elsewhere, but Florida for me was a hotbed of unusual stories not commonly reported by newspapers in other states. There were articles published about Skunk Apes (a sort of cousin of Bigfoot with an odd odor), a guy in Miami high on bath salts who chewed off part of another man’s face, or a state law prohibiting singing while wearing a swimsuit.

Here are a few of many offbeat and peculiar stories I can recall from my time working for a newspaper there…

Late one night in 1995, a semi-truck driving south down I-95 near Viera suddenly jack-knifed and overturned when a passenger car swerved into its lane, spilling the contents it was hauling and leaking gasoline for a quarter mile onto the roadway surface. Following close behind, a second tractor-trailer truck also crashed at the site trying to avoid the first crash and spilling bales of freshly cut hay onto I-95.

A spark from the first truck sliding and scraping the asphalt caught the entire stretch of I-95 on fire and when news crews arrived on scene, it was reminiscent of what the inside of a malfunctioning oven might look like at KFC. There were thousands of whole frozen flaming chickens and ignited bales of hay burning to the bewilderment of Florida Highway Patrol officers who had barricaded traffic along the interstate.

Believe it or not, this was not the first such accident on a Florida thoroughfare involving the spillage of frozen chickens. Similar accidents involving trucks carrying frozen chickens have been reported through the years in Brandon, Jacksonville, and Escambia County.

About a mile or so south of where that crash occurred on I-95, I got to report on a different accident on the interstate and it created quite a buzz in the community in 2003.

I was driving north on I-95 to cover a high school tennis match when I received a phone call from an editor at the newspaper. She informed me that a truck with an open-bed trailer hauling eight beehives had overturned and traffic north on the interstate was at a standstill. She said a highway cleanup was underway and that they were letting traffic through on one lane, but she wanted me to stop at the accident scene and take photos for the newspaper.

After more than 20 minutes sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic approaching the accident site, I was able to pull over and take some photos of highway workers wearing Hazmat suits as they were removing broken beehives from I-95. A police officer told me that a swarm of more than 5,000 angry bees had left the scene when they escaped from the beehives following the accident.

The next day, I heard that the bees had traveled more than five miles to an apartment complex and residents living there were afraid as the angry bees divebombed them as they swarmed in the rafters of the apartment’s parking structure. Emergency crews had to evacuate people in those apartments, and some were forced to go to a motel for several days while the bees were captured and extracted from the apartment complex. And I later learned that one of those apartment residents forced to evacuate because of the bee invasion happened to be an ex-girlfriend of mine who was allergic to bee stings.

Around 2007, an unusual robbery and arrest was reported in Palm Bay, Florida. Apparently, a man entered a convenience store there, put a six pack of beer on the counter and asked the clerk for a pack of cigarettes. The clerk asked for the man’s ID to verify that he was over the age of 21 to buy the beer and cigarettes. As the clerk looked at the ID card, the customer pulled a gun and demanded that the clerk give him money from the cash register.

The robber was handed $40 by the clerk and fled the store carrying his six pack of beer. This was before video surveillance was widely used for convenience stores there. About 45 minutes had passed and police were at the convenience store investigating the robbery when the telephone rang behind the counter and a caller asked the clerk if he had found an ID card that he might have lost at the store.

Police suspected it was the robber and told the clerk to tell the caller to come by and pick it up before the store closed that evening. They moved their police cruiser behind the store and hid in the back room waiting for the caller to return and pick up the ID.

Within 15 minutes, the same fellow who had robbed the store walked in and wanted his ID back. On his way out of the store, he was arrested for armed robbery. You can’t make up stories like this and it’s only a small sample of what a typical news day is like there.

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