A Beltsville man arrested on a minor drug offense early Sunday morning made a Houdini-like escape from the small Hyattsville jail, officials at the Prince George's County Department of Corrections said yesterday.

It was the third escape or escape attempt in the county's detention facilities in less than two months.

The latest escape occurred yesterday morning after county police arrested Vance Aleshire, 25, for alleged possession of controlled substances. Aleshire was taken to the Hyattsville detention center about 9:30 a.m., according to Bill Frazier, deputy director of the county corrections department.

There was only one officer on duty at the Hyattsville jail about 1 p.m., according to Frazier, and that officer took Aleshire to a public telephone near the entrance of the jail so Aleshire could call a bondsman.

The officer was called to another area of the jail while Aleshire was on the phone. He left Aleshire seated, his hands in handcuffs that were attached to a wall. When the officer returned to the front processing area, the handcuffs were dangling from the wall, and Aleshire was not in them.

The Hyattsville jail's maximum capacity is 15 prisoners. Most are held for a few hours while awaiting transfer to the Upper Marlboro detention center.

Aleshire was scheduled for a transfer to Upper Marlboro yesterday afternoon. All prisoners housed permanently at Hyattsville are on a work-release program and are considered extremely low risk, Frazier said.

There was no explanation of how Aleshire could have extracted himself from his bonds.

"We don't know if he had a handcuff key or what," Frazier said. "All we know is that it's very, very difficult." The escapee was still at large late yesterday afternoon.

Less than two months ago, on July 7, nine men successfully broke out of the county jail in Upper Marlboro. Six of the nine were eventually recaptured, and placed in adjacent cells. Last Friday, five of the nine tried to escape again, along with four other inmates, sawing through three steel bars that separated a dayroom and a corridor and removing an air conditioner before they were caught.