IT HAD BEEN A LONG EVENING, ESPECIALLY for a homebody like Krissy Taylor. The cover girl—and little sister of 20-year-old supermodel Niki Taylor—had spent the night of July 1 watching the Hooters stadium football team play the Connecticut Coyotes in Miami. The Hooters, who are coached by Niki's husband, Matt Martinez, were swamped by the Coyotes, 60 to 39. Around 2:30 a.m., Krissy kissed her mother, Barbara, 48, goodnight and headed to her room in the family's comfortable, three-bedroom house in Pembroke Pines, Fla. Two hours later, Niki arrived—Matt was at home with the couple's 7-month-old twins—and found Krissy, clad in a long, gold-colored nightgown, lying face down on the ceramic tile floor. Frantic, Niki called 911, and the operator tried to talk her through CPR. But neither she nor anyone else could revive Krissy, who was pronounced dead at 5:39 a.m.

What killed Krissy Taylor, the blonde beauty with more than a dozen magazine covers to her credit and a reputation for projecting the robust image of health? Police say they do not suspect foul play, and Broward County Chief Medical Examiner Joseph Perper says the July 3 autopsy has revealed "no evidence of natural disease or significant injury." Nor was there evidence that she had taken illegal drugs. Results of toxicological tests will not be available for weeks. For now, speculation about the death of the 5'11" tall, 127-lb. model is focusing on her use of Primatene Mist, a nonprescription breathing aid specifically intended for people with asthma. Krissy, who was never diagnosed as an asthmatic, had been using Primatene Mist to relieve spells of shortness of breath.

On May 24, Taylor had visited her family physician, Dr. William Bruno, who says he found her to have "nasal congestion, a sore throat and body aches, a typical upper-respiratory infection." Although news reports have described Bruno as saying that he knew of no breathing problems Taylor was suffering and that he had never prescribed respiratory medication for her, Bruno tells PEOPLE that he prescribed an antibiotic and a steroid and, for her minor wheezing, gave Taylor an Autohaler, a new kind of bronchodilator that squirts automatically on inhaling rather than having to be coordinated with one's breathing. When Bruno called Barbara Taylor a few days later to check on Krissy's condition, he says, he was told that Krissy had abandoned the Autohaler in favor of Primatene Mist. Says Bruno: "I told Barbara, if the medication I prescribed didn't work as well as the Primatene, fine, use it. Just follow the directions and don't overuse it."

Krissy did not suffer from any eating disorder, Bruno says. But six to eight months ago he referred her to a gastroenterologist, who, Bruno says, prescribed the muscle relaxant Donnatal for stomach acid and minor intestinal problems brought on by her nerves and the pressures of her hectic schedule. "She was an emotional girl," he says, "and she had fights with boyfriends, where she would complain of her belly."

A few days before her death, says George Dassinger, who handled publicity for both Krissy and Niki, Taylor did in fact have "an upsetting encounter" with a couple of girls. "It was normal teenage stuff," he says. "But it bothered Krissy a lot." The incident might have induced her to take the Donnatal and Primatene together—a dangerous combination, says Nancy Sanders. The founder of Allergy and Asthma Network/Mothers of Asthmatics, Sanders has been trying to get the FDA to require prescriptions for inhalers. "Both Donnatal, which has phenobarbitol, and Primatene have a cardiac effect," she says. In its defense, Whitehall-Robins Healthcare, the company that makes Primatene, says that the FDA "reaffirmed the safety" of its product just last year. "The label instructions," says Whitehall in a statement after Krissy's death, "indicate that Primatene Mist should be used only after a diagnosis of asthma has been made by the patient's physician." Medical examiner Perper notes that excessive use of a drug such as Primatene—which contains a form of adrenaline called epinephrine—may trigger an irregular heartbeat; but deaths from such use, he adds, are "quite rare."

Kristen "Krissy" Taylor was herself a rarity—a model in the making who preferred being a typical teen. Her parents, Barbara, who managed her career, and Ken, 54, a retired highway patrol trooper, tried to keep their kids' lives as normal as possible. Even when Niki and Krissy were appearing on the covers of Seventeen and Vogue, they had to wash the dishes and empty the cat litter. "Krissy moved into the business slowly," says Dassinger. "She used to accompany Niki on shoots. She was like a kid watching from the sidelines."

She didn't like everything she saw. "Niki would go to Greece," says Dassinger. "But Krissy wouldn't. Krissy would shoot in Florida and would still be able to go line dancing later that night with her friends." Krissy was, in fact, a little bit country: She fell in love with the music about 18 months ago and traded in her sports car for a blue Chevy pickup.

"Krissy seemed so separate from [the glamor of] the modeling world," says Lisa Fernandez, a former fashion editor at YM magazine. "When you're 17, you're so carefree. You think you're going to live forever."

WILLIAM PLUMMER
DON SIDER in Miami and MARY HUZINEC and NANCY JO SALES in New York City

  • Contributors:
  • Don Sider,
  • Mary Huzinec,
  • Nancy Jo Sales.