A 22-year-old Navy medic from Oregon was killed early yesterday after his car was hit by a truck driven by an Edgewater man allegedly fleeing after trying to steal a Christmas tree in Burtonsville, police reported.

Montgomery County police arrested John Alan Parater, 29, of 1112 Brice Dr. and charged him with assault with intent to rob and murder in the death of James Joseph Phillips of Oregon City.

Phillips, a hospitalman 3rd class stationed at Bethesda naval hospital, was to be discharged from the Navy early next year, according to hospital spokeswoman Lt. Deborah Hoag.

"What was a Christmas tree robbery turned into a murder," said Montgomery police spokesman Phillip Caswell.

According to Caswell, at 1:10 a.m., Parater drove his pickup truck into a Christmas tree sales lot at 16126 Columbia Pike in Burtonsville and began to load a tree onto his truck. Aroused by the noise, the lot owner, whose name is being withheld because he is a witness in the case, confronted Parater. The two men argued, Caswell said, then Parater tried to run over the lot owner with his truck. The lot owner pulled a gun and fired several shots at the truck, according to Caswell.

Parater fled north in the southbound lane on a stretch of Rte. 29 where construction has temporarily narrowed the four-lane road to two lanes, Caswell said. Parater's speeding truck hit Phillips' Toyota head-on, killing the Oregon man instantly, Caswell said.

Parater then abandoned his truck and ran into woods bordering the highway, Caswell said. Using a team of dogs, Montgomery and Maryland state police found Parater in the woods, according to Caswell. They took him to Greater Laurel Hospital where he was treated for injuries, then released to police custody, Caswell said.