Parents of children killed in Tonto Creek flood sentenced to probation | Arizona News

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GLOBE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5/AP) – After hours of testimonies, an Arizona couple who bypassed barricades and entered Tonto Creek flash floods, killing three children, learned their fate. A judge sentenced Lacey Rawlings to 48 months probation while Daniel Rawlings received 60 months. They will also have to carry out works of general interest. Gila County Superior Court Judge Timothy Wright said the wishes of the surviving children of Rawlings and others weighed heavily in his decision.

More than 100 people rallied Thursday to support Daniel and Lacey Rawlings, the Arizona couple who led their family through dangerous floodwaters in 2019, killing their two children and niece by drowning.



Outside the Globe courthouse about an hour before the start of the hearing, more than 100 people, some driving from Pinetop-Lakeside, Show Low and Mesa, wrapped yellow ribbons around the railings, held placards, yellow balloons, wore “Rawlings Strong” sweatshirts and t-shirts in a show of support.

Rapid floodwaters at Tonto Creek swept away three of seven children in a military-style vehicle with Daniel Rawlings at the wheel in 2019.

Search and recovery efforts lead to the lifeless bodies of Willa Rawlings, 6, her brother Colby Rawlings, 5, and their cousin Austin. At the time, Daniel and Lacey Rawlings expressed their gratitude to the research teams and the community.

Parents of children swept away by flooded stream in Tonto Basin are grateful to search teams

By pleading guilty, the two avoided trial. Daniel was facing three counts of manslaughter and seven counts of child abuse and Lacey was facing seven counts of child abuse, one for each child in the vehicle at the time. Gila County Superior Court Administrator Jonathan Bearup said Lacey will receive probation.






Search and recovery efforts lead to the lifeless bodies of Willa Rawlings, 6, her brother Colby Rawlings, 5, and their cousin Austin.




Inside the courtroom, the prosecution asked Austin’s grandmother, aunt and mother to read emotional statements. Austin is the 5-year-old niece of Daniel and Lacey Rawlings.

“Austin, Colby and Willa aren’t the ones hurting,” said Lauren Johnston, Austin’s mother. “The hardest part is watching your child survivors struggling, struggling with all aspects of life for the foreseeable future, hearing their stories of this traumatic event day in and day out, and desperately searching for the right words to say – mom, why is- this happened? Mom, is it someone’s fault? Mom, my body was so cold, I couldn’t even swim because the water was so freezing.

Daniel and Lacey didn’t show much emotion during the first part of the hearing. However, Lacey broke down in tears when Johnston looked at them and said, “I want Daniel and Lacey to know that I forgive you for taking my daughter from me. I’ll never understand, but I forgive you for taking my daughter away from me and our family.

A Gila County judge sentenced Lacey Rawlings to 48 months probation, her husband Daniel Rawlings received 60 months.



Austin’s grandmother, Lynn Morey, also made a statement in court. “Because all children are our children, I ask this court to send an appropriate message to say to all adults… the message is that it is not acceptable for children to make life-altering choices when it’s about their safety. The message that it will not be tolerated for any adult, not once, to ignore an unfenced swimming pool, a car ride without a child restraint, boats without proper life jackets on board, or a water-swollen creek. rain with closed prohibited traffic sign in front of it. This message must resonate throughout this state, so that similar tragedies do not happen again because children are a gift from God to us and we must take care of them,” said Morey.

During the hearing, prosecutors played an audio recording of Lacey’s interview with a Gila County Sheriff’s Detective. He revealed why Daniel and Lacey Rawlings successfully crossed the flooded creek twice at Punkin Center earlier today and why they decided to do it a third time.

Lacey said they took the kids first because “it was raining and heating up the hot tub, so we were going to get a canopy to put over the hot tub so we could sit in the hot tub.” She explained that after that, they went to a second store “to buy board games and candy for the kids.”

“We come home, and that’s when the kids start asking daddy please, daddy please do it again…instead of doing turn around and go back to the Punkin Center, (the detective ends his sentence) he went to Bar X? (Lacey) Yes.

Judge Wright said on Thursday that children need their parents to be their protectors, not their playmates. Still, he said he struggled to know that any sentence he imposed – especially a sentence of prison – would negatively affect the Rawlings’ two other children and two nieces who survived the floods.

“These four children have no fault in this matter, but they carry the burden,” Wright said. Prosecutor Bradley Soos had asked for a prison sentence. He pushed back against the idea that the Rawlings simply misperceived the danger of crossing a flooded wash, saying instead that a series of poor decisions by the couple resulted in the children’s deaths.

Parents of children killed in Arizona flood plead guilty

The Bar X crossing is located about 4 miles from the Punkin center. Flash flooding has always been a problem in Tonto Creek when it rains, making conditions dangerous for drivers to cross safely. Discussions about building a bridge over Tonto Creek have been going on for years. Yet, after this tragedy, funding was secured and construction plans were finalized.

Construction of a bridge at the Punkin Center, located four miles from the Bar X crossing where the Rawlings family entered the water, was scheduled to begin next month, according to Gila County Public Works Director Steve Sanders .

However, the estimated $24 million project was delayed due to environmental concerns over a bird nesting near the area. Sanders said construction is now expected to begin in October and take 18 to 24 months.


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