Kentucky family rushes to save father killed by swarm of yellowjackets: 'We did everything we could'

Mike Alford's family, including his wife of 41 years, were the first to rush to their matriarch's aid after he collapsed Monday while moving an old bag of potting soil from his porch when the unexpected happened.

HARLAN, Ky. – A close-knit Kentucky community is mourning after a hometown businessman died following an unexpected encounter with a swarm of yellowjackets.

Mike Alford was moving an old bag of potting soil from his porch when he was attacked by the swarm of wasps. His family, including his wife of 41 years, were the first to rush to their patriarch's aid, but it was too late.

Harlan County Deputy Coroner John W. Jones told FOX Weather on Thursday that they are waiting on routine toxicology results to come back before making an official cause of death, but underlying health issues made the situation much worse.

Nightmare in Harlan

As the 59-year-old was being stung to death by dozens of yellowjackets nesting inside the bag, Alford managed to call his wife, who was helping her daughter.

"He told her he had been stung, and she came up to check on him," said Mitchell Alford, one of their three surviving children.


As phone lines went down for whatever reason, Mike Alford's wife took actions into her own hands.

"Once she got to him and realized he needed additional help, she had to drive a short distance away from the residence to contact me and my sister and get an ambulance on the way," Mitchell Alford told FOX Weather. "And we arrived shortly thereafter."

Mitchell Alford was off-duty at the time as a Harlan police officer and says his department was helpful throughout the nightmare.

"We just did everything we could to keep him alive," he said. "Immediately when I started getting the information out that what was going on, I had a lot of help from the police department coming and trying to make life-saving efforts. We did everything we could."

Mike Alford was quiet and humble and enjoyed his family and the little things in life. The Harlan native managed gas stations for a living, and for the majority of his life, he worked in that industry until he was disabled. He also enjoyed four-wheeling, playing the piano, collecting knives and whittling, his son recalls.

"He had hurt his back and went through medical issues that caused him to not work anymore and later ended up losing one of his legs because of Charcot syndrome from being a diabetic," said Mitchell Alford who is now left to help his family recover from the devastating loss.

‘A longer recovery’

Yet, no one will suffer as Mitchell Alford's now-widowed mother who just recently lost her mother, too.

"It's going to be a longer recovery for her emotionally," he said of his mother whose only income is what she draws from Social Security. "This was a very hard time for her worrying about how to properly pay for the ceremonies."

Family members also said they thought an insurance policy was in place, and now they are having trouble finding that as they set up a GoFundMe to help make payments for funeral expenses.

"A lot of times we slack on making preparations we should have," Mitchell Alford said. "We don't come from a wealthy family, and when something like this happens, you never expected it."

Funeral services will be held Saturday afternoon at the Chapel of the Evarts Funeral Home in Evarts. Burial will follow in the Resthaven Cemetery in Keith, with family and friends serving as pallbearers.

Face-to-face with a bee swarm

Beekeepers warn if you ever find yourself where bees are attacking you, the most important thing to do is protect your face and run indoors or get into a vehicle. 

"Once the bees get riled up, the most important thing to do is run away as fast as possible," states the University of Arizona's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in an online information sheet. "Do not try to retrieve belongings nearby. Do not try to stand still in an attempt to fool the bees. That may work with a snake under certain circumstances, but honey bees won't be impressed."


Those who study bees' behaviors also warn not to fight the insects because they have the advantage of numbers and the gift of flight.

"The more you flail your arms, the madder they will get. Just run indoors as fast as possible," the British Beekeepers Association reports.

The normal top speed of a worker would be about 15-20 mph, when flying to a food source, and about 12 mph when returning laden down with nectar, pollen, propolis or water.

If you are allergic to bees, you should have an EpiPen with you at all times when you are outdoors.