Mark Raymond Phelps, wanted by police in the shooting of a San Diego County deputy sheriff Friday night, was cornered and arrested Sunday afternoon in San Marcos after another flurry of gunfire at a deputy who chased him along two North County freeways.
Phelps ran into a crowded furniture store, sending confused employees and customers scampering outside emergency exits, before giving up without a further fight as deputies swarmed to the scene.
His arrest followed a harrowing chase northbound on Interstate 15 and then westbound on California 78. The pursuit began when Sheriff’s Deputy Alfred Mackrille by chance spotted and identified Phelps, 28, as the alleged gunman in the Friday night shooting in Vista, Sheriff’s Department spokesman Stephanie Simpson said.
As Mackrille gave chase with lights blazing and siren blaring, he updated his progress by radio so other deputies could position themselves on California 78 as the pursuit turned westbound from Escondido into San Marcos.
Attack on Cruiser
But the suspect abruptly took the Nordahl Road off-ramp in San Marcos and drove to the Levitz furniture store parking lot just northwest of the intersection.
There, Simpson said, Phelps got out of his car and began shooting at Mackrille, who brought his car to a stop.
“Automatic weapons fire!” the deputy shouted into his radio. Moments later, Mackrille identified the weapons as an M-1 and an Uzi submachine gun as units from all over North County reported heading for the scene.
Mackrille was believed to have returned gunfire, Simpson said, but apparently he did not hit Phelps, who then ran inside the furniture store, startling people inside.
Deputies feared Phelps would take hostages inside the store, but he didn’t.
“We got a call from an employee at Levitz who said, very calmly, ‘We had a guy run in here and he dropped off two guns at a desk and ran towards the back of the store.’ The employee sounded sort of like, golly, what should we do now?” Simpson said.
A Levitz employee told The Times that Phelps ran into the store, shouting and yelling and waving his guns but otherwise not being violent.
“Everyone knew something was wrong--he was carrying weapons, that was easy to see,” said the employee, who asked not to be identified. “Everyone reacted admirably. The employees opened the fire exits and cleared everyone out. The showroom was empty in a matter of a few minutes, and the deputies went in.
“The Sheriff’s Department handled it clean, cool and proficiently,” the Levitz employee said.
Suspected of Shooting Officer
Phelps surrendered without further incident, and was taken to the County Jail in Vista for questioning and booking on charges of attempted murder of a peace officer.
A large traffic jam developed at the busy intersection outside the furniture store as deputies and California Highway Patrol officers cordoned off the area to recover spent shell casings.
Phelps was identified by the Sheriff’s Department as the prime suspect in a shooting Friday night that left Deputy James Bennetts, 27, wounded in the shoulder after a brief chase through a rural Vista neighborhood.
Phelps, wanted by authorities on a felony arrest warrant for assault with a deadly weapon, was spotted by Bennetts on Friday night and sped off in his Chevrolet Corvette with the deputy on his tail. He allegedly abruptly stopped and shot at Bennetts with an automatic weapon, peppering the deputy’s car with bullets and hitting Bennetts once in the shoulder as he crawled behind his car for cover.
Phelps and a companion, identified by authorities as Michael John Russell, evaded capture on foot Friday night despite a neighborhood search by the sheriff’s special tactics squad. Russell, wanted for questioning, is still at large.
An all-points bulletin was issued for Phelps on Saturday, but it was the chance spotting by Mackrille Sunday afternoon on the North County freeway that sparked his capture.
Bennetts, a four-year veteran, was listed in good condition Sunday at Palomar Memorial Hospital.