HEBRON — The death of a Norfolk country singer at the Thayer County fairgrounds this summer was a "senseless" accident but won't result in criminal charges, the local prosecutor said Thursday.
Abby Uecker, known by her stage name, Abby Nicole, died after being pinned beneath a utility vehicle loaded with people on the fairgrounds in Deshler before sunrise July 23.
Nearly everything investigators have pieced together in the two months since has come from witnesses, most of whom were riding in the utility vehicle with her, Thayer County Attorney Daniel Werner told reporters Thursday at the county courthouse.
Uecker, 25, was apparently sitting in another passenger's lap as the utility vehicle — filled with five people, including driver Jason S. Lienemann of North Platte — circled the fairgrounds' dirt racetrack after 4 a.m.
Then someone's hat blew off.
Witnesses told investigators the driver made a "slow and controlled" turn so someone could pick up the fallen hat from the ground. The utility vehicle tipped, and Uecker became trapped beneath the roll bar.
Other riders helped lift the utility vehicle off her while a security person called 911, Werner said. Still, Uecker died from a head injury about an hour later at Thayer County Hospital.
But exactly what factors contributed to the accident is unclear.
Lienemann, 22, admitted to drinking five or six beers that evening, but told investigators he had stopped consuming alcohol hours before the crash.
Local law enforcement didn't immediately respond to the scene because it wasn't on a public road, and therefore they do not have an accurate measurement of anyone's blood-alcohol content, Werner said. While everyone involved remained at the scene, local cops didn't make contact with Lienemann until 12 hours later.
"It may be that the speed was higher than perceived," Werner said in a prepared statement. "The uneven distribution of weight of the passengers in the UTV and the slope of the track at the point where the turn was made may have contributed to the accident."
And, he said, "There may have been other factors causing the UTV to tip over."
Yet no evidence gathered by the Nebraska State Patrol, local law enforcement or Werner himself supported filing criminal charges, Werner said, and the crash has been deemed an accident.
Uecker's family understands and respects the decision, their own lawyer wrote in a statement read Thursday by Werner. The family said it would make no more comments.
"As we have discussed, the circumstances of Abby's death may be best dealt with in a context that does not involve criminal prosecution," wrote attorney Dave Domina of Omaha, who represents the Uecker family.
The utility vehicle belongs to a private business and was on loan to the fair at the time, Werner said. Lienemann, Uecker and the others weren't supposed to be riding in it.
The other passengers included a member of Uecker's band and two members of the fair pit crew.
Werner said a Thayer County fair board member was in the area at the time of the crash, but it isn't clear how much the board member knew about what was happening.
"Every accident is senseless," Werner said. "This one involved a hat. Certainly not important."
Uecker performed at the fair the two previous nights with her band, County Road.
The 2015 University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate had been a performer since age 4. She joined County Road in college and co-wrote songs with writers in Nashville, Tennessee.
In 2014, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor after experiencing severe headaches and underwent surgery. She returned to school in 2015 and started singing again.
She released her first single, "Cool," last year.