HUDSON — Betty-Jo Tagerson was angry at her boyfriend.
That's the reason a little girl is dead — a fleeting moment of rage behind the wheel, according to the Florida Highway Patrol, which arrested Tagerson on Friday in the November crash that killed 5-year-old triplet Delaney Rossman.
"She made a choice to get in the car and her decision killed my daughter," said Delaney's mother, Danielle Malm. "This could have been avoided."
At 7:40 p.m. on Nov. 5 in the front yard of her house at 12910 King Manor Ave., Tagerson had a "heated argument" with her boyfriend and "angrily got into her Jeep and rapidly drove out of her yard" and onto the street, according to her arrest report.
The Highway Patrol estimates that, within the span of a few homes, the Jeep accelerated to at least 44 mph before Tagerson lost control of the vehicle. It was only 50 paces from her house to the scene of the crash.
As Tagerson, 39, lost control, she swerved left, jumped a curb, flattened a mailbox and careened into a neighbor's yard. She hit a parked truck and then drove into a group of children, which included the triplets: Delaney, Gabrielle and Isabella Rossman. Their older sister, 10-year-old Victoria Morgan, tried to save her sisters, but there was no time. It happened too fast. Delaney and Gabrielle were hit.
"My sisters are dead," Victoria said, according to a neighbor, after the impact.
"My sisters are dead."
Tagerson was thrown from the Jeep, which kept rolling, driverless, back onto the street and crashed into the triplets' parents' van, parked in their driveway.
Delaney was declared dead the next morning at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.
Gabrielle had two broken clavicles, a broken pelvis, several broken ribs, a broken right leg, a collapsed lung and internal bleeding. She was in the hospital for two weeks, much of it spent in a medically induced coma.
The other girls — Isabella, Victoria and a 9-year-old neighbor, Marissa Manuli — were scraped and bruised, but okay. Tagerson had minor injuries.
Malm, 31, still wonders if there were other factors in the crash.
"My question is: 'What really happened?' " she said.
She wants to hear it from Tagerson.
Tagerson hasn't spoken about the accident. She declined an interview request Friday. She also declined to comment when she was in court in February on an unrelated charge of scheme to defraud from 2007. Tagerson is accused of stealing $19,000 from Ramappa M.D. in New Port Richey, where she worked as an office manager.
Two days after the crash, Tagerson and her boyfriend, Jason Gordon, left a note among the cards and stuffed animals at the crash scene. It read:
"Sorry about the tragedy. If you all need anything let us know. With love, Jason Gordon, Betty-Jo Tagerson."
Malm never read the note. She and her family never went back to the house.
"I couldn't," she said.
Relatives packed up the house for them and they've been staying with Malm's parents in Shady Hills.
The girls turned 6 on Jan. 10. Malm said it was the hardest day so far, even worse than Christmas. She hasn't fallen apart because she can't, because she has to be a mother to her daughters.
"I am living with it, I guess," she said. There are days she doesn't want to get out of bed. But she does.
She is extremely thankful for the support and kindness from the community. So far, her daughters' medical bills are $118,000 and rising. Donations have helped. Malm also thanks the strangers who have sent gifts for the girls, such as tickets to Disney World.
"It gives my children those moments to laugh and play," Malm said. "My children are so serious now."
Tagerson faces criminal charges of vehicular homicide, reckless driving involving serious bodily injury and reckless driving involving property damage. She was also issued infractions for no insurance, defective equipment and not wearing a seat belt.
Tagerson remained at the Pasco County jail in lieu of $15,250 bail Friday evening. Malm said she doesn't hate her, but she doesn't forgive her. She knows this is the beginning of a long court process, but she's ready.
"I want her to be held accountable," Malm said.
Times staff writer Molly Moorhead contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.