A 31-year-old Prince George's County woman was arrested yesterday in the severe beating of an 17-month-old baby with whom she routinely baby-sat, police said.

Eddie Lee Banks of 7206 Greeley Rd. in Kentland was arrested at 6 a.m. and was being held without bond at the Prince George's Detention Center in Upper Marlboro. She was charged with assault with intent to murder Kenneth Porter, the son of Banks' next-door neighbors, who had been in her care for for four days.

According to police, Banks became angry Friday afternoon when the child soiled his diapers. Police alleged Banks then beat him with a plastic comb and a coathanger.

When the child began to convulse at about 3 p.m., officials said, Banks notified his mother she was taking him to Prince George's General Hospital. He was later transferred to Children's Hospital in the District, where he was listed yesterday in critical condition with multiple injuries.

Police said an emergency room nurse alerted authorities after noting the extent and nature of the child's wounds. Law enforcement officials refused to provide further details about the case yesterday.

The alleged beating was the second such incident in the same area of the county in two weeks.

Prince George's police arrested Samdai Singh, 36, of Brentwood on Feb. 26 in the beating of her 5-year-old daughter, who subsequently died of her injuries at Children's Hosptial. Singh was arrested after her other children told police she administered the beating in a rage at the child's bed-wetting and poor behavior, according to court documents.

Sgt. Laney Hester, head of the police department's child abuse division, said last week his unit usually responds to one complaint of alleged child abuse a day. Additional incidents are handled by social service agencies, he said.

"I don't think the statistics are any worse than last year's," Hester said, "but I guess anytime times are tough these things go up."

News of yesterday's arrest spread quickly through Banks' neighborhood, a small community of single-family homes and family-centered lives. Neighbors said Banks is married, and the mother of four children ranging from 7 to 10 years old. They described her as an especially close friend of Kenneth Porter's mother. The Porters could not be reached for comment.

Several neighbors were quick to defend Banks as a kind, stable woman whom they trusted with their children as she would trust them with hers.

"She's nice. She speaks to everybody," said a woman who described herself as a friend of the Porters. "But she stays in the house all the time. I guess she just got mad."

"The whole neighborhood is upset about it," said Geraldine Wilson, one of Banks' neighbors. "It really hurt us when we found out about it this morning. If she did spank the baby, she didn't mean to do it. You know how things get on your nerves and maybe your husband gets on your back. I guess if she spanked that baby, she didn't know how hard she laid her hand on."