He had just finished grocery shopping, but a New Mexico man got much more than he bargained for when he returned to his car in the store's parking lot: A swarm of 15,000 honey bees had decamped in the back seat.
The man, whose name was not released, had left a window down in a Buick while he made a 10-minute stop at an Albertsons supermarket on Sunday afternoon in Las Cruces, New Mexico, authorities said.
It wasn't until he had started to drive away that he noticed that something was amiss, according to the Las Cruces Fire Department.
"Then he turned back and looked and like was, 'Holy cow,'" Jesse Johnson, an off-duty firefighter and paramedic whose hobby is beekeeping, said Wednesday. "He called 911 because he didn't know what to do."
Johnson, 37, said he got the call and figured that he could safely remove and relocate the bees to his property.
"I'll do anything to keep people from killing the bees," he said.
It's common in the spring for colonies of bees to split, with a swarm following a new queen to another location, according to Johnson. He suggested that the bees, which collectively weighed about 3 1/2 pounds, might have come from a parapet, gutter system or home in a nearby neighborhood.
"Luckily, when bees are swarming, they're pretty docile," he said. "They don't have a home to protect for a moment. It's much more intimidating than it is dangerous."
But don't tell that to the driver of the car, who watched Johnson wrangle the bees from a healthy distance in the parking lot of Albertsons.
"He didn't want to have anything to do with it," Johnson said. "He was worried because the car was borrowed from a friend."
Protected by a white beekeeper's jacket and veil, Johnson approached the car with an empty hive box that he said he had treated with lemongrass oil.
"It really mimics the scent of the queen," he said.
The Fire Department estimated that 15,000 bees were removed.
No major injuries resulted from the encounter, according to authorities, though they noted that a supermarket security guard and at least one firefighter were stung.