No jail time for parents of three children who drowned after family went to flooded creek, despite warnings – Crime Online
An Arizona couple have been sentenced to probation after pleading guilty in a case involving the deaths of three children, who drowned when the family drove through a flooded wash.
Lacey Rawlings, 34, was officially sentenced to four years probation on Thursday, while her husband, Daniel Rawlings, 38, was sentenced to five years supervised probation, according to KSAZ.
The incident happened in late 2019 when the family was together for the Thanksgiving holiday. The Rawlings, their four children and three nieces were out shopping when Daniel attempted to drive his military-style vehicle down Tonto Creek, which was flooded by a powerful storm, despite barricades and signs indicating it was closed.
The vehicle got stuck as the waters of the creek raged around them. Lacey, Daniel, their two eldest children and two nieces escaped, but three children – Colby Rawlings, 5, his sister Willa, 6, and their cousin Austin, 5 – were taken away.
The bodies of the 5-year-old children were found just downstream from the missed crossing. A thorough search of Willa eventually located her fight about 20 miles south of the crossing in Lake Roosevelt.
Lacey and Daniel Rawlings pleaded not guilty to the charges in 2020, as CrimeOnline previously reported. They were due to be tried in March, when they would have been sentenced to decades in prison if found guilty.
Under a plea deal reached in December, Lacey Rawlings changed her guilty plea to seven counts of child abuse in exchange for four years’ probation. Daniel pleaded guilty to three counts of manslaughter and seven counts of child abuse, leaving sentencing to the judge.
During Thursday’s hearing, Gila County District Attorney Brad Soos requested a jail sentence for Daniel.
“There must be punishment, judge,” Soos said. “Child abuse laws place a duty on guardians to keep children safe.”
The court received dozens of letters supporting the couple, and Austin’s mother, Lauren Johnston, spoke on the couple’s behalf.
“They deserve two healthy parents who can stand up for them and support them emotionally,” Johnston said, referring to the Rawlings’ 12- and 13-year-old surviving children. “I want Daniel and Lacey to know that I forgive them. I’ll never understand, but I forgive you for taking my daughter from me.
Lacey Rawlings also addressed the court, saying the decision to try to cross the flooded creek was “a mistake”.
“I agonize about it every day and I will agonize about it for the rest of my life,” she said.
Since the incident, Gila County has received a $21 million federal grant for a bridge over the normally dry wash, which many people cross daily. Since 1995, at least eight people have died trying to make the flooded crossing.
Gila County Public Works Director Steve Sanders said the county will begin accepting bids for the bridge next month and plans to begin construction in October.
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[Featured image: L-R, Colby, Willa, and Austin/GoFundMe]