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A summer day spent on the swing set turned into a very scary situation for a Hamburg Township family and their baby sitter.
On Thursday, 2-year-old Hamburg Township triplet boys, their 11-year-old aunt and 16-year-old baby sitter were attacked by a swarm of yellow jackets outside their home just after 6 p.m.
The triplets — Ben, Evan and Will Scherdt — were stung repeatedly and treated at the scene by the Hamburg Township Fire Department. Their aunt, Sammy Sutton, was stung several times and was also treated at the scene.
Baby sitter Breanne Oleski of Brighton was stung at least 21 times on her body and several times on the head. She was later hospitalized for an allergic reaction and released at around 2 a.m. Friday. She has fully recovered. The family dog was also stung roughly 50 times, but survived.
The attack occurred at the Scherdt residence in Hamburg Township. The triplets' father, Brian Scherdt, was on the way home from work when the incident happened. His wife, Melissa Scherdt, was in Ann Arbor.
The group was outside watching the triplets when a bug landed on Ben and he started screaming, so Breanne took him in, Sutton said. "That's when they started attacking us. I was screaming. We just got the boys inside," but the bugs followed the in, she said.
After Oleski rushed the boys inside, she sent Sutton for help. Sutton ran across the road to her grandmother Frances Click's home, who immediately called 911 because at least one of the triplets, she said, had breathing problems.
At the same time, Oleski tended to the boys at the Scherdt home, but paid a high price. The yellow jackets — a form of wasp — stung her at least 21 times on the body and several times on the head while she stripped the boys down to remove the bees from their clothing to protect them.
"They were stinging me, stinging them. I threw their clothes in the bathroom and got them back outside," Oleski said. "That's when (Sammy's grandmother) showed up with wasp spray and we took the boys back across the street in nothing but diapers and got them calmed down."
Oleski was later admitted to Saint Joseph Mercy Livingston Hospital at around 10 p.m. after her throat began swelling. She has recovered.
Hamburg Township Fire Chief Doug Berry said when emergency responders arrived at the scene, their first priority was treating the injured children. Once the ambulance personnel arrived, the department scouted out the yellow jackets' underground nest, locating a 2-inch opening in the ground, within 15 minutes. Berry said the yellow jackets had dug a large hive — as large as a soccer ball — underneath two bushes, about 10 feet from the swing set, and close to the same distance from the home's front door.
The insects, he said, were "highly aggressive."
"I'm not sure what set them off, it looked like somebody had done some digging next to the hive," said Berry, noting that he wasn't sure what type of species did the stinging. "The kids were all close by, playing, so that may be what happened. All five children were stung and the dog was, too."
Sutton said she believed the Scherdt's chocolate Lab, Brody, had been digging in the area. The dog had been stung "about 50 times" but survived.
Whatever the case, local insect experts agree yellow jackets and other members of the wasp family are far more aggressive than most other forms of bees. Yellow jackets are known for stinging individuals or animals repeatedly that they perceive to be threats, while typical honeybees usually sting once.
"If you violate their home, yellow jackets get extremely angry," said Gretchen Voyle, horticulture educator at the Michigan State University Extension-Livingston County. "They're very territorial, they'll get very put out. A wasp can sting you 'til it's time to go home for lunch."
Scott Purr, general manager of Critter Control in Ann Arbor, said 2009 has been an extremely bad year for yellow jackets in southern Michigan, noting that his business has had far more calls on yellow jackets this year than the past four years. He credits elevated yellow jacket activity to biological cycles and warm summer weather.
"Everything takes a cycle," Purr said. "But we've had lots of these types of calls lately."
Upon locating the yellow jackets, Hamburg Township firefighters sprayed the nest with insect killer, but to no avail.
"It didn't work," Berry said. "We ended up using three CO2 extinguishers (carbon dioxide fire extinguishers) to get them."
Though the wasps are now gone, the experience won't soon be forgotten by those involved. Sutton said she wasn't a fan of bees to begin with, and the experience has only made her dislike them all the more.
Oleski, no longer swollen and in shock, said she reacted to the crisis as best she could. The triplets' mother couldn't agree more.
"I think the girls did fantastic. I mean, considering the situation I think they handled it well," Melissa Scherdt said.
Credits: Frank Konkel - Daily Press & Argus