Motorists on River Road in Bethesda apparently aren't passing the salt, but instead are picking it up. Maryland state police said yesterday highway officials have complained that about 20 tons of the white stuff are missing from their huge unfenced, uncovered stockpile there.

And yesterday a man who allegedly stole a tubful of rock salt from the pile to sell in 5-pound bags in his store and a 22-year-old college student who allegedly took a box of the icemelting salt for his driveway were arrested by Maryland state police.

Peter H. Frank, 39, of 10001 Hall Rd, Potomac, vice president of Talbert's Ice and Beverage Service, 5234 River Rd., Bethesda, and Steve H. Brereton, 22, of 7732 Old Chester Rd., Bethesda, were charged with larceny of material worth less than $100, police said. The state values the salt at $15.40 per ton.

State Trooper Wayne R. Moffatt said a state highway employee followed a station wagon leaving the River Road stockpile about 6 a.m. last Friday and that the vehicle drove to Talbert's Ice and Beverage.

Yesterday, Moffatt said, he went to the store, asked to buy a bag of salt and observed that the salt, in a metal washtub in the rear of the store, was being put into the five-pound bags. The troops said Frank sold him a bag for $1.69.

Reached last night at home, Frank said, "I helped myself to two buckets full of the salt which was on the side of the road." When asked if this was the salt he was selling in his store, Frank said, "I would not like to comment any more."

[WORD ILLEGIBLE] drove Frank to the police station [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] filling a box and [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] Brereton, who attends Montgomery College, said there were no signs at the site and that he "had no idea the stockpile was county property."

"I would never have done it if I thought it was illegal," Brereton said last night.

Brereton explained that the "shoebox sized" container of salt that he took from what he described as the "humongous" salt pile was for the base of his driveway. He said that the county has not sanded or salted his street once this winter.

Brereton said this was the first time he had taken salt from the state's supply but that he has seen other people doing it many times before.

Both Brereton and Frank are free pending a hearing Feb. 17. The larceny offense they are charged with is punishable by a fine of not more than $500 or 18 months in jail or both.