Terry Catledge, starting power forward for the Washington Bullets last season, suffered a hairline fracture of a bone in his neck early yesterday in a one-vehicle highway accident near his home in Mississippi that killed a fellow passenger.

"I do not think his injury is very serious at this point and Terry will probably be released from the hospital Monday," said Dr. Tom McDonald, a neurosurgeon on the staff of the North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, who treated Catledge. "I don't see any problem in him playing basketball this season.

"It's very important to say that Terry has not injured the nerves in his neck or his spinal cord. It's not a displaced fracture, where the bone moves. It's basically a hairline fracture of the bone. There was never any paralysis."

Killed was Ricky Cooper, 22.

According to Mississippi Highway Patrol trooper Paul Hendrix, four people, including Catledge, were riding in Catledge's 1987 Ford Bronco on Mississippi Rte. 8 four miles west of Calhoun City when the driver, Michael Evans, lost control of the vehicle. It skidded off the road at about 2:50 a.m. Catledge, 6 feet 8 and 230 pounds, was in the front seat.

Hendrix said Evans apparently failed to negotiate a left-hand curve and the car went down an embankment and rolled "several times," before coming to rest upside down 250 feet from where it left the road.

Hendrix said the accident occurred because of "a high rate of speed, maybe 75-80 {mph} if I had to guess . . . There was beer in the car. We found a cooler . . . A blood sample was taken of the driver, and the test will go to the state crime lab."

No charges have been filed.

Hendrix said he interviewed Catledge at the scene and "he did not seem to be intoxicated. He was completely coherent."

Cooper, of Houston, Miss., was dead on arrival at the Calhoun City hospital of head and internal injuries. He was the only passenger wearing a seat belt, Hendrix said.

Earl Evans, a passenger, was transferred from Calhoun City to the Oxford Lafayette Medical Center in Oxford. He was listed in fair condition and being watched in intensive care for possible internal injuries.

Dr. McDonald said the driver, Michael Evans, was taken to Tupelo from Calhoun City about three or four hours after the accident and would remain in the hospital with a fracture of the cervical spine and a bruised kidney. "As far as we could tell," Dr. McDonald said, "there were no traces of drugs or alcohol in his {Michael Evans'} system."

Reached by telephone, Catledge said he and the other passengers, "friends from high school," had attended a party in Grenada, Miss., and were driving home to Houston, a distance of about 60 miles. Calhoun City is about halfway between the two towns.

"It happened so fast, I don't remember a whole lot," Catledge said. "The car left the highway . . . He {Evans} just lost control. We were going about 60, I guess.

"I wasn't knocked out or anything. I was able to crawl out and go for help.

"I flagged someone down, and that's about all I remember."

Catledge was asked if the driver had been drinking.

"A little bit, not much," he said.

Catledge was taken by ambulance to Hillcrest Hospital in Calhoun City, then transferred by ambulance to the larger hospital in Tupelo at about noon. He will undergo another series of X-rays this morning "just to make sure everything is okay," according to McDonald, and most likely will be released this afternoon.

"We'll treat it with a neck brace for about three to six weeks," McDonald said. "He'll be limited to walking or slow jogging, and he'll have to wear the brace when he's ambulatory. But this should heal completely. I don't think it'll take away from his basketball at all. If they go to camp in October, he should be fine by then."

Bullets General Manager Bob Ferry said he spoke with Catledge and the doctor and was "very relieved. I feel badly for him because his good friend died in the accident. I didn't ask him about that. Terry had planned to come back to Washington this week. Obviously this will set him back at least a week, and when he comes up here he'll be examined by our people."

Catledge is going into his third NBA and second Bullets season.