Parents of kids killed in Tonto Creek flood to be sentenced after plea deal

Daniel and Lacey Rawlings entered plea deals last month.
Daniel and Lacey Rawlings entered plea deals last month.(AZ Family)
Published: Jan. 27, 2022 at 7:57 AM MST
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GLOBE, Ariz. (3TV/CBS 5) – An Arizona couple who drove their family through dangerous floodwaters in 2019, resulting in the drowning deaths of their two children and niece, will soon learn their fate. The sentencing hearing for Daniel and Lacey Rawlings is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 27, in Globe in Gila County.

Fast-moving floodwaters in Tonto Creek swept away three of the seven children riding in a military-style vehicle with Daniel behind the wheel.

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

By pleading guilty, the two avoided trial. Daniel faced three counts of manslaughter and seven counts of child abuse and Lacey, seven counts of child abuse, one for every child in the vehicle at the time. Under her agreement, she will be on supervised probation for four years, according to the Gila County Superior Court administrator, Jonathan Bearup.

Daniel could be sentenced to jail time, probation or prison time, according to his attorney Bruce Griffen in a phone interview Wednesday. Ahead of Thursday’s hearing, he said his client will be walking in “optimistic” and “hopeful” for probation and community service. Griffen added there is not a moment that goes by where Daniel doesn’t think about his kids and the consequences he’s had to live with every day.

Flash flooding has always been a problem in Tonto Creek when it rains, making conditions treacherous for drivers to cross safely. Talks of building a bridge over Tonto Creek have been going on for years. Yet after this tragedy, funding was secured and plans to build it were finalized.

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

However, the estimated $24 million project has been delayed due to environmental concerns relating to a bird nesting near the area. Sanders said construction is now scheduled to start in October and take 18 to 24 months to complete.

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