Prosecutors: Threats preceded killing at Everett business

Jeff Phebus grew increasingly unstable after his wife left their Arlington home, prosecutors say.

EVERETT — The first 911 call was frantic.

“Gun!” a woman could be heard yelling in the background during the May 24 call, according to charging papers recently filed in Snohomish County Superior Court. “She was screaming her head off!”

The caller said they were at the Achilles plastics manufacturing company building in south Everett. Someone had fired a gun. A woman needed medical attention.

Other calls poured in, and with them more details.

Rebecca Phebus, 57, who worked at the plant, was breathing but bleeding profusely, a caller reportedly said. The operator said to apply pressure with a cloth — don’t let off to look.

Police showed up soon after. An employee was cradling Phebus in his arms. “She just stopped breathing!” he called out to officers.

She was soon pronounced dead. A medical examiner’s report showed that she had been shot twice, Snohomish County prosecutors wrote.

Witnesses said they believed it was her husband Jeff Phebus, a former Achilles employee, who fired the gun. He fled, but was later arrested during a confrontation with law enforcement.

Jeff Phebus, 59, was charged Thursday with premeditated first-degree murder, as well as assault and violation of a court order. His bail was raised to $5 million.

In the charging papers, prosecutors allege that he had grown increasingly unstable in recent months, and had repeatedly threatened to confront his wife of nearly 16 years with a firearm after she left their home in Arlington.

Signs of trouble appeared late last year.

In November, Jeff Phebus allegedly went looking for his wife with a gun while she temporarily lived somewhere else. And in December, a neighbor told law enforcement that she had gone to the Phebus house, only to have Jeff point a gun directly at her.

The neighbor, who identified herself as a friend and a coworker of the couple, said she had also seen him express problematic behavior at their home, at work and in public. Charging papers don’t describe that behavior.

“What is clear from the reports is that by the end (of) January, 2019, Rebecca had had enough,” prosecutors wrote.

During a weekend in late January, while Jeff Phebus was away on a business trip, she left their house for good to stay with her son on Camano Island. She then filed for a protection order against her husband and tried to get her marriage annulled.

On Jan. 29, Jeff Phebus texted and called his wife incessantly, making non-specific threats, according to charging papers. In at least one text he wrote, “I’ll take care of this,” prosecutors allege.

On the phone, he reportedly told an Island County sheriff’s deputy that his wife stole from him. He also told a 911 dispatcher that he had armed himself and was going to confront his wife and stepson, a police officer, prosecutors allege.

He later backpedaled and said he didn’t actually have a gun.

The deputy called Jeff Phebus back. During the conversation, Phebus “walked a tightrope with his choice of words,” not quite reaching probable cause for an arrest, according to charging papers.

“They have to be held accountable,” he reportedly said. “They have to know they can’t do this to me.”

Jeff Phebus called the Island County 911 dispatch again Feb. 6. And again, he allegedly said he was going to Camano Island with a gun to confront his wife and that he would be willing to die.

Fearing for their lives, Rebecca Phebus and her son left the house at 10:30 p.m. It was below freezing. The roads were icy.

Jeff Phebus never showed. But on Feb. 12, in response to his threats, Island County Superior Court prohibited him from having any contact with his wife. He also wasn’t allowed to possess firearms for a year. He was arrested the next day for two counts of felony harassment.

His employer told him that he wasn’t allowed to come back to work until he resolved his legal matters, charging papers say.

Jeff Phebus appeared to leave the state in April, telling coworkers at Achilles that he was going to Florida.

During the trip, he sent a message to co-workers. “There is some definite unfinished business that I have to take care of in Everett,” he reportedly wrote. He indicated he was in Las Vegas at the time.

Records showed that he was in Mishawaka, Indiana, on April 20. His nephew reported to the local police that his gun, a black Sig Sauer P320 9mm handgun, had been stolen by his uncle. The nephew later told police that his uncle had offered to pay for the gun.

Six days later, Jeff Phebus reportedly stayed at a hotel in Rocksprings, Wyoming. An acquaintance said she had talked to him over Facebook messenger, and that he had been acting suicidal, according to charging papers. The acquaintance later told law enforcement that he mentioned killing his wife, prosecutors wrote.

Over a week later, he texted a co-worker, saying he was back in town.

By then, Achilles had terminated his employment, “for reasons to include his threat of violence to an employee,” prosecutors wrote.

No one reported seeing Jeff Phebus until May 23, when he checked out of an Everett motel. He reportedly told staff that he was leaving his belongings behind and that “they could do whatever they wanted with them as he would not be back,” prosecutors wrote.

At 8 a.m., he walked onto the Achilles campus wearing a hoodie and a company jacket, charging papers say. He apparently timed his appearance with the changing of a clock, an employee reportedly told detectives, so he could sneak by the security booth.

Witnesses reported seeing him grab his wife, prosecutors allege. He had a gun, they said. She was screaming for help.

Gunshots were heard. Other employees said they watched him hurriedly walk out of the building, and then break into a jog to the parking lot, where he fled in a red Chevrolet Corvette.

After 10 a.m., police surrounded Jeff Phebus in the 1700 block of McDougall Avenue in Everett, behind a Safeway. He turned off his engine, but didn’t get out of the car or show his hands as ordered, prosecutors allege. An officer reported hearing the man talk to himself.

Then, the officer reportedly saw a gun.

“One moment I was looking at the open driver’s window and the next (the defendant) was pointing a gun,” the officer told detectives.

Within a second, the officer reported hearing a single gun shot, prosecutors wrote. Police opened fire. Investigators found that between 15 and 25 rounds were fired by law enforcement. Multiple rounds hit the Corvette.

Jeff Phebus was never hit. He only suffered a shoulder abrasion unrelated to the gunfire.

Six Everett officers and one Snohomish County sheriff’s sergeant were involved in the shooting, according to the Snohomish Multi-Agency Response Team, a group of detectives that investigates law enforcement’s use of potentially deadly force.

Officers told Jeff Phebus to raise his hands. He did. They told him to get on the ground and crawl toward them.

He got onto the ground, but allegedly stopped moving. He was crying and repeatedly saying “I’m so sorry,” according to charging papers. He apparently refused commands to keep his hands in the air, police reportedly said.

Unsure whether Jeff Phebus still had a gun, an officer fired a beanbag, hitting him in the stomach. He was then arrested.

Jeff Phebus talked to officers at the hospital. He reportedly asked how his wife was doing. “I hope I didn’t hurt her,” he said, according to charging papers.

He allegedly told a detective that he had gone to Achilles to confront Rebecca Phebus because she had left suddenly with their belongings. He said he saw his new 2019 Ford parked out front and became enraged, prosecutors wrote.

“I walked in there and shot her,” he told the detective, according to charging papers. “I shot my (expletive) wife.”

Jeff Phebus remains in the county jail.

A detective obtained a search warrant to look inside the Corvette. There, he found a Sig Sauer P320 9mm handgun — the same one that Phebus had reportedly taken from his nephew in Indiana.

Funeral services for Rebecca Phebus are being held Monday at a church in Oregon.

According to an obituary, she loved to cook, walk in the woods with her granddaughters and go antique shopping. “She had a wonderful eye for beauty in the world around her,” family wrote, whether that was through photography or through restoring old furniture.

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; Twitter: @zachariahtb.

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