Merle Unger Jr., a notorious escape artist who faces prison in Maryland for killing a Hagerstown police officer, was apprehended yesterday south of Winchester, Va., after crashing a stolen Lincoln Town Car while trying to elude police.

Virginia State Police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell said Unger, who used a set of makeshift wire cutters to escape from a Florida prison Nov. 5, suffered facial cuts when his car overturned about 7 a.m. while he was trying to negotiate an Interstate 81 offramp near Strasburg at high speed.

Caldwell said Unger, who was carrying a loaded .32-caliber handgun, stole the car from a Woodbridge couple who had been vacationing in Green Castle, Pa. She said police started following the car because it was moving erratically.

Unger, 41, has managed to escape from eight lockups, in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Florida.

He was serving a 30-year sentence in Arcadia, Fla., for assault, burglary and grand larceny, and was scheduled to be moved Dec. 1 to Maryland to serve a life sentence for killing a Hagerstown police officer in 1975.

Officer Donald Kline was shot three times in the chest in an alley after he interrupted a grocery holdup. Unger escaped just before he was to stand trial, and was arrested a month later in Orlando, Fla.