A Washington taxi driver was shot and fatally wounded yesterday as he struggled in his cab with two men who apparently tried to rob him of $2, D.C. police reported.

The incident, involving an Eastern Cab Co. taxi, occured about 2 p.m. in the 700 block of Anacostia Avenue NE. a few blocks north of Benning Road and east of the Anacostia River.

As the driver struggled with his assailants, according to accounts, the cab coasted down the street, seemingly out of control, and struck a tree before stopping.

The victim was identified as Vernon McKinley, 47, of 5009 D St. SE. Police said he was married and had an 18-year-old son. They said he drove Eastern cab No. 145.

McKinley was pronounced dead at D.C. General Hospital at 4:05 p.m.

In a brief interview before he died, according to a police source, the driver told an officer that the assailants had tried to take two $1 bills from him and that he had resisted.

A shot was fired inside the cab, based on a preliminary account assembled by the police robbery squad, and one of the two asailants began scuffling with the driver.

As the cab rolled slow along the street, the other asailant flung open the rear open door, scrambled out of the back seat and ran up to the driver's window, according to the account.

After failing to open the door on the driver's side, he pounded on the window. When the cab finally struck the tree and halted, the man reentered the vehicle, police said.

At least one more shot was fired inside the halted vehicle, police were told, and one of the two assailants, began beating the victim about the head.

The driver slumped over, and the two assailants emerged from the cab and fled. Homicide detectives, who took over the investigation from the robbery unit after the victim's death, said he was shot in the body, but released few other details.

Investigators said there had been 60 armed robberies of taxi cabs here this year before yesterday's incident.