CHARLESTON, S.C. - A "person of interest" in the disappearance of a constable whose police cruiser was found in flames was arrested early yesterday on a federal weapons charge in North Carolina, police said.

Walter Fayall III was taken into custody about 1 a.m. and will be returned to South Carolina, said Capt. Denise Bridges, of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., Police Department.

Dozens of officers have been searching the Charleston County area for Robert Lee Bailey, 67, a constable who works for the Lincolnville Police Department.

Bailey was last seen at a traffic stop late Monday. His hat, gun, blood and several bullet casings were found in a yard, and his empty cruiser was found torched behind a church off Interstate 26, police said.

Fayall's sport utility vehicle was seen at a Charlotte motel and a SWAT team was called in, said Julie Hill, a spokeswoman for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police.

The sheriff said authorities are investigating whether Fayall lived in a house near where gunshots were heard the night Bailey disappeared.

Highway Patrol Cpl. Paul Brouthers said searchers were out looking for Bailey again yesterday morning. Messages left with the sheriff's office were not immediately returned.

Constables in South Carolina assist law enforcement agencies and may carry firearms.

Bailey has worked as a law officer for both Dorchester County and the city of Charleston and as a constable with the Charleston County Sheriff's Department and with Lincolnville. *