Maryland State Police said today a 36-year-old California prison escapee arrested here Saturday has been identified by at least three witnesses as the so-called Good Samaritan car thief.

The man is hospitalized for what police called "undisclosed medical problems" and will not be questioned further about the series of car thefts or charged until "completion of his medical evaluation," said state police spokesman Chuck Jackson.

For weeks, police throughout the Baltimore-Washington area have been trying to track down a motorist, described by witnesses as polite and well spoken, who flagged down drivers and warned them of a nonexistent wobbly wheel or flaming exhaust.

When the drivers, usually older unaccompanied women, stopped and got out to investigate, the Good Samaritan motorist jumped into the unoccupied car and took off, stealing the driver's purse and other valuables as well.

Jackson said there have been at least 30 such incidents since late June, "and it may go higher than that" when other reports are analyzed.

He said the suspect apparently "lived in the woods" in a makeshift campsite just outside the Baltimore City limits near the Baltimore-Washington Parkway during his stay in Maryland.

"That's where he slept at night," Jackson said.

The man was arrested Saturday in Anne Arundel County after a brief chase that occurred when a state trooper spotted the car the man was driving as one recently reported stolen, police said.

They said the man's health problems interrupted his questioning by police Sunday, and he was taken to North Arundel Hospital.

Hospital officials would not disclose why the man was hospitalized or when he will be released.

While the man has not yet been charged with any offenses in Maryland, he is being held on a fugitive warrant from San Diego, where he is wanted for escaping in May from a halfway house where he was finishing a two-year sentence for shoplifting.

He was scheduled to be paroled Aug. 24 when he escaped May 27, parole officer Bob Stinson said in a telephone interview.

San Diego police said the man also is wanted for questioning in connection with about 25 similar Good Samaritan car theft cases in California.

Neither San Diego nor Maryland police say they know how the suspect spent his time between his escape in California last May and his arrival here some time in June.

"But after we took him into custody," said Jackson, "there were victims who indicated to us that he was definitely the individual that we were looking for in connection with the auto theft-purse snatchings in the metropolitan Baltimore area in the last two weeks."

After his arrest Saturday, Jackson said, the man led police to the wooded site where he said he slept at night.