A Washington resident on assignment here for the U.S. International Communication Agency died today after being shot in the head in a car robbery following a high-speed chase through wealthy suburbs of Nairobi.

The death of reporter Everly Driscoll, 41, was believed to be the first killing of a foreign official in an extensive crime wave against foreigners that has left dead four American private citizens here.

Driscoll, a resident of Capitol Hill and a native of Texas, arrived in Nairobi Sunday to cover a U.N. conference on new and renewable sources of energy. It was her first trip outside the United States, and a friend, Hugh Muir, said she had been reluctant to come.

Muir, the Voice of America correspondent here, said he was driving Driscoll around the scenic suburbs of Nairobi after dinner when a car began to tail him and tried to blind him with high-beam lights.

Muir, who moved here from Washington six weeks ago, drove to his house after the robbers, driving a stolen car, sideswiped him in an attempt to stop him.

He got out of the car at the demands of two African gunmen but locked the keys in. Driscoll refused to get out, and one of the assailants fired one shot through the window, hitting her in the head.

"He simply reached through the broken window, opened the door and pushed her body across the seat out of the car and onto my feet," Muir said, trembling with emotion. The other man grabbed Muir's wallet from his jacket, jumped into the car and they drove off. "It all took about 15 seconds," Muir said.

After the attackers left, Muir heard pounding noises from the trunk of the other car and discovered that the original driver and passenger of the vehicle had been locked in the trunk by the bandits.

Both cars were Peugeot 504s, a favorite target of car thieves.

Driscoll died this morning in a Nairobi hospital, about 11 hours after she was shot.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Ben Fordney said there has been a significant increase in the amount of violent crime affecting Americans here, with 51 cases reported since November. The houses of 17 embassy employes have been broken into, resulting in losses valued at $45,000. In addition to the four Americans previously killed, nine -- including some officials -- have been seriously injured.

Fordney said there would be no protest to the Kenyan government, but another Western diplomat said he thought foreign missions would soon make representations.

All American Embassy houses here have night watchmen, steel gates and a lockable steel grate in front of the bedrooms, thus giving a measure of protection even if burglars enter the house, Fordney said.

Thieves, often armed with weapons smuggled out of neighboring Uganda, have become increasingly bold. In one recent incident, men used sledgehammers to bash down security doors while neighbors cowered in their houses.

The rising incidence of violent crime is not limited to Kenya. Tanzania and Zambia have experienced similar phenomena, often explained as a consequence of an economic decline and rising unemployment. Uganda, still trying to recover from eight years of chaos and killing under dictator Idi Amin, is probably Africa's most crime-wracked country.

After a series of attacks in Lusaka, French Embassy personnel in the Zambian capital sought the right to carry weapons. Last year a dawn-to-dusk curfew in Lusaka, following an alleged coup attempt, led to a sharp reduction in crime. The curfew has been lifted, but few people stay out beyond 10 p.m.

Nairobi is a U.N. regional headquarters, so it has a large, well-to-do foreign community in addition to many wealthy Asian businessmen.

Kenya has black Africa's most developed tourist industry, getting almost 400,000 visitors yearly, but major hotels warn visitors not to walk the streets after dark.

Nairobi has almost doubled in population to about 800,000 in the last decade, bringing an influx of jobless and beggars. Although many black Kenyans have prospered in the 18 years since independence, the division between wealthy and poor is wider here than in many African countries, so the opportunities for crime are greater.

Driscoll, 41, joined the International Communication Agency -- then the U.S. Information Agency -- in 1973 as a science writer. She was born in Houston and worked as a teacher in Texas. In 1969 she worked as a secretary in the office of Frank Borman at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

For three years starting in 1970 she was an aerospace writer and editor for Science News magazine. She was unmarried and a graduate of Baylor University.

In Washington, ICA Director Charles Z. Wick said a memorial service will be held next week. Survivors include her mother and stepfather, Mr. and Mrs. W.W. McElrath of Austin, and her father, Laney A. Driscoll of Aransas Pass, Tex.