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Driver runs into triplets and their friend in Pasco, killing one

HUDSON — Danielle Malm was in her kitchen Friday evening, icing a birthday cake, when she heard a loud noise.

"Did you hear that?" she asked her husband.

Before he could answer, there was a second, louder bang.

Malm ran outside and saw a Jeep crunched against her van in the driveway. She looked across the street, to where her four daughters had just been playing with a friend.

It was nearly 8 p.m. and dark, but the yard was illuminated by a street light. Malm could see that the Jeep had cut through the yard.

She screamed and ran.

Two of her 5-year-old triplets were lying on the ground, motionless.

Saturday morning at 8:40, Delaney Rossman was declared dead at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa. Her sister Gabrielle Rossman was in a medically induced coma with two broken clavicles, a broken pelvis, several broken ribs, a broken right leg, a collapsed lung and internal bleeding, her mother said.

The Jeep had run over them and a 9-year-old neighbor, Marissa Manuli, who escaped with minor injuries. Isabella Rossman, the third triplet, was scraped and bruised in the commotion.

Big sister Victoria Morgan, 10, who saw the Jeep strike her sisters, was in shock.

"My sisters are dead," she cried, according to Marissa's grandmother, Nancy Wyatt. "My sisters are dead."

Meanwhile, the girls' stepfather, Eric Malm, and their mother began CPR on Delaney while they waited for the medical helicopter to arrive. Wyatt knelt with Gabrielle, but the little girl was bleeding so much she didn't know where to touch her to comfort her. "Try not to move," she said.

• • •

Moments before the crash, Betty-Jo Tagerson got into her Jeep, just about 50 paces up King Manor Avenue from the scene in this north Pasco community. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, she swerved sharply left and drove over the curb. She flattened a mailbox, missed a light pole, crashed into a pickup parked in a yard, and ran into the little girls playing on the lawn.

The Jeep kept moving, and Tagerson fell out the driver's-side door, landing onto Marissa Manuli's driveway.

The empty Jeep rolled back onto King Manor Avenue, crossed the street, and rammed into Mrs. Malm's van.

That was the second crash Mrs. Malm heard as she was spreading green icing on her niece's birthday cake for a party that was supposed to be on Saturday.

• • •

A check of area court records showed no driving infractions for Tagerson. Driving histories from the state department of motor vehicles are not available on weekends. She has one arrest in Florida — a 2007 Pasco charge of scheming to defraud — according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Tagerson was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in serious condition after the crash.

A man who said he is her ex-husband, Rick Tagerson, answered the door of her home Saturday afternoon. He said she was still in the hospital. He didn't want to talk.

"It was an accident," he said.

Sgt. Larry Kraus of the Florida Highway Patrol said the agency is investigating to determine if she will be charged.

"I know people want swift action," he said, but added it's important to proceed carefully. "We don't want something to go wrong that could cause us to lose a case," he said.

Asked about reports from neighbors that Tagerson was speeding and that she was fiddling with a bungee cord that held her driver's side door shut, he declined to comment on that. "We don't want to speculate," Kraus said.

• • •

Saturday afternoon, Danielle and Eric Malm were at St. Joseph's Hospital visiting Gabrielle. They had just come from the medical examiner's office, having identified Delaney.

"My 10-year-old daughter saw it coming. She told them to get out of the way," Mrs. Malm said.

Minutes before the crash, the couple talked about bringing the girls in for the night.

"Let them play," she told her husband. "There's no school tomorrow."

It had been such a routine day at the Malm house. The girls got home from school, each grabbed a snack and sat down at the table.

Gabrielle was especially excited, telling her mom she'd had "the best day ever" because her kindergarten class at Hudson Elementary was given popcorn balls as a treat.

As Mrs. Malm began work on the cake, the girls went out to play. Every so often, they ran back in to dip a finger in the frosting, their mother laughing at their little green-stained hands.

If it had been a normal night, the girls might have played dress-up — they went trick-or-treating as a trio of fairies. Then they would have had their bedtime story from their parents. They would have fallen asleep, the triplets in their room and Victoria in a new room of her own.

Now, the parents don't know what to say to Gabrielle when she wakes up. They've talked to Isabella, but she has only asked about Gabrielle — not Delaney.

"I don't know what to think about it," Mrs. Malm said. "I'm assuming she knows something. I don't know how to tell her."

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Kim Wilmath can be reached at kwilmath@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3386. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

Driver runs into triplets and their friend in Pasco, killing one 11/06/10 [Last modified: Sunday, November 7, 2010 12:27am]
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