While detectives from three states waited yesterday to question an Ohio hitchhiker who allegedly confessed to 17 murders, a public defender said the man "is in need of immediate hospitalization."

After conferring with Kenneth G. Taylor, who has been charged with one murder, lawyer Mike Engel said, "I think what we need to do first is address the question of this man's competency. I shall not permit this man to cooperate further, or cooperate at all with police, assuming he can cooperate, until we address that question first."

Traffice patrolmen arrested the 37-year-old unemployed Youngstown man when they stopped him early Monday for driving with a broken taillight. They said Taylor blurted out a confession to the murder and $95 robbery of David R. Willie, 36, of Nashville and led them to Willie's body.

By afternoon, when Taylor quit talking and asked for a lawyer, police said he had told them he had killed 14 people during the past two years in the New Lima, Ohio-New Brighton, Pa., are and three in Tennessee since he began hitchhiking Thursday.

A squad of detectives from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee were in Nashville to interview Taylor about more than a dozen unsolved murders. New Brighton Police Chief Phil Rini said he wanted to ask about sexual attacks on a woman and her teenage daughter.

Only the death of Willie has been confirmed.