Would-be burglars pried open Farecard dispensing machines at Metro's Farragut West station early yesterday but fled apparently empty handed and leaving coins strewn on the station floor, when police arrived.

The attempt to make off with money from the dispensers was the latest in a rash of such incidents, Metro said.

A spokesman for Metro transit police said that while precise figures were not available yesterday, several attempts a month are usually made to steal money from the machines, which dispense the tickets for passengers to ride the subway. The spokesman said that while there have been sporadic thefts since the system opened, the number of incidents has increased in the past year.

"It's not alarming, but it's something we are concerned about," said Assistant Chief Dennie Stewart of the Metro police force. "We're doing what we can to abate it."

In yesterday's incident, which occurred about 4 a.m. when the subway station was closed, the suspects fled with apparently no money. One man, identified by Metro police as Jerry Lee Darden of 415 17th St. SE, was arrested and charged with burglary. Two other suspects escaped.

According to Metro spokesman Cody Pfanstiehl, transit officer Willie C. Bennett noticed that someone had entered the Farragut West station at 18th and I streets NW and began to investigate.

When Bennett approached a car outside the station, two men jumped out and ran away. A third man inside the car accelerated and tried to run Bennett down, Pfanstiehl said.

Bennett fired his service revolver once at the car, missing the suspect. The bullet apparently hit the side of the car, which then sped off. Bennett chased the two suspects who had fled on foot, joined by a D.C. police officer and another Metro officer. They arrested Darden at a construction site at 801 18th St. NW.

Both the other suspects who fled on foot and the driver of the car escaped, Pfanstiehl said.

He said that the suspects had apparently forced open at least two of the Farecard machines in the station and removed the large metal boxes, called hoppers, that hold money. The hoppers had apparently been abandoned, however, as the suspects fled up the escalator to escape the station prior to their confrontation with Bennett.

Metro police speculated that the men heard or saw Bennett approaching and decided to drop the heavy containers. Coins from the hoppers were strewn about the station floor, officers said.

Pfanstiehl said police believe many of the burglaries have been committed by a relatively small number of persons who break into the machines again and again.