Deputy Phelps was shot and killed after stopping a vehicle at 2345 hours that had been involved in a shooting 45 minutes earlier. Radio contact was lost after he advised dispatch of the stop on Highway 168 at Shepherd Street near Clovis, California. A responding deputy found Deputy Phelps on the ground, and his gun, badge, radio and patrol car had been stolen by the suspect. Another deputy located the suspect driving the patrol car and began to pursue the suspect, who opened fire, shooting out the responding officer's windows. The suspect crashed the car and fled on foot and remained at large during a large manhunt involving over 100 officers from eight agencies. On the third day of the search, the suspect fired at a department helicopter, striking it's rotor blade. On May 25, 2002, the suspect was shot and killed when he opened fire on officers after being surrounded in a trailer in the Prather area of Fresno County.
Deputy Phelps was flown to a local hospital where he succumbed to his wounds. He had been with the Fresno County Sheriff's Office for 18 months and had been in law enforcement since the early 1980s. He had only completed training as a patrol deputy one week prior to the shooting. He is survived by his wife, daughter, son, parents, and sister.