A 34-year-old man on parole for a 1988 murder escaped early yesterday from Prince George's Hospital Center's psychiatric ward, where he was being held after allegedly brandishing a gun at a Greenbelt police officer, police said.

Anthony Curtis Foster, 34, fled the hospital about 5:30 a.m., said Officer George Mathews, a Greenbelt Police Department spokesman, and remained at large yesterday evening.

Neighboring police departments were informed shortly after Foster fled, Mathews said. A U.S. Capitol Police helicopter searched the area around the hospital, he said.

Mathews could not say for certain whether the psychiatric ward was secured or whether guards were posted outside Foster's door. "I believe it's a secured area," he said.

Foster was taken to the hospital Saturday night for an involuntary psychiatric examination after he allegedly brandished a gun at a Greenbelt officer who had stopped Foster for erratic driving, Mathews said.

The officer, whose name police did not release, pulled Foster over in the 7900 block of Mandan Road in Greenbelt about 4 a.m. Saturday after noticing a man driving recklessly, police said. The officer got out of his patrol car and several times told Foster to show his hands, but Foster refused, police said.

Foster then got out of his car wielding a .45-caliber handgun, and the officer fired his own weapon, police said.

Foster was struck in the forearm by a bullet and was taken to Prince George's Hospital Center, Mathews said.

Police obtained a warrant for Foster's arrest on charges of attempted first-degree murder shortly after he entered the hospital and were waiting until he was released to formally charge him, Mathews said.

Police described Foster as a black man, 5 feet 9 and 190 pounds. He is bald, has a closely trimmed beard and may be wearing a white shirt and white shorts with a blue stripe, police said. He had bandages on both forearms when he left the hospital, police said.

He has a large tattoo of a cross on his upper left arm and shoulder, Mathews said.

Foster was convicted of first-degree murder for shooting a man on a basketball court in the District, Mathews said. Police chased Foster six miles, from his home in Southeast to Prince George's County, before they were able to arrest him, according to a news report at the time. Foster served 10 years in prison and then was paroled, Mathews said.