SEBRING (FOX 13) - The Highlands County Sheriff's Office says 24-year-old dragster Kat Moller died during a race at Sebring International Raceway when a piece of debris hit her helmet.
Investigators say Moeller's jet dragster veered off the track, hitting a timing device, before crashing. It was not clear whether the debris hit Moeller's helmet before or after she veered off the racetrack.
The crash happened Thursday night during an exhibition event in Highlands County.
The Highlands County Sheriff's Office says Moller's was the only vehicle taking off from the start/finish straight in the 1/8th-mile drag racing event.
On her first of two runs, Moller's dragster drifted from the left lane toward the center line, crossing the center and hitting a timing device at the finish line. A parachute deployed at or around the same time. It was not known if the parachute was manually or automatically triggered.
As the dragster continued down the track, it drifted further right, scraping the right side retaining barrier wall before coming to rest after a low-speed impact with a tire barrier near Turn One on the race track.
Track safety officials and Emergency Medical personnel immediately responded to the crash site, where Moller was pronounced deceased on scene.
While more details about what happened are determined by investigators, the racing community is mourning the loss of one of its brightest stars.
"Her presence, her sweet presence. It just devastates everyone. We are going to feel this for a long time," said Bill Lee, Sr.
Lee works at Professional Automotive Services in Palmetto and first met Moller when she started as a junior dragster at age 11.
"I trained her to drive. She was a good driver," he said.
Moller was in her fifth season as a driver for Larsen Motorsports. According to the team website, Moller has a degree in mechanical engineering and was pursuing a graduate degree Florida Tech.
Racing was in her blood.
"Kat died doing what she loved to do. She loved to race that car. She’d been driving it for five years. She knew what she was doing. She was trained properly. Something freaky had to happen," Lee said.
She grew up in her father's auto body shop in Sarasota and followed in his footsteps with her racing career.
"I don’t know if it was the speed, the adrenaline rush or making friends that last a lifetime," said Lee.
In 2013 Moller told USF News that racing was her everything.
"I like the speed, I just like the atmosphere you have at the track and the thrill you get going down the race track," said Moller.
Investigators with the Highland County Sheriff’s Office are asking anyone who may have been at the race and took video of the crash to call the Criminal Investigation Unit at 863-402-7250.
A statement on behalf of Moller's family was released saying, "Katerina's mother, father, and brother Thomas would like to send their thank you and love to all of Katarina Moller fans and Friends in this time of our need. The funeral arrangements are for Monday at 6 p.m. at the Epiphany Cathedral Church in downtown Venice and the burial is Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Sarasota Memorial Park."