An Arizona couple has been charged after two of their children, and a niece were fatally swept away in floodwaters. Father Daniel Rawlings is charged with three counts of reckless manslaughter, and seven of child abuse, according to ABC 15. Mother Lacey Rawlings is charged with seven counts of child abuse.
These charges have been a while coming, but they also hit on a fraught part of life in Gila County, Arizona. The Rawlings’ daughter Willa, 6, son Colby, 5, and niece Austin, 5, were swept away when the parents were taking the three kids, and four other children across Tonto Creek last November in a military-style truck. Colby and Austin were soon found, but it took weeks to locate Willa.
The thing is, it’s not unusual for locals to cross the creek. It’s normally dry, but storms can lead to floods, according to AZ Central. This can cut people off from necessities. At best, travel can be incredibly convoluted. Tonto Basin District Fire Chief Chief Steve Holt described an incident in which a stroke victim had to be moved in a truck, driven through floodwaters, and then transferred to a boat. There’s no bridges in the immediate area, just three major crossings. The Rawlings family used Bar X Road. Holt said it could take weeks at a time before people could safely cross areas affected by flood.
Despite the risky scenario, it was pretty routine for people to cross.
“Every single person who lives on the east side of the creek goes around those closed signs,” local Barbara Godbold said.
Residents have long asked for a bridge in the area, but the cost put it out of reach. The children’s deaths have since fueled a renewed push.
Daniel Rawlings thanked members of the community for their support in the wake of the incident.
“For all those who gave of their time to join in the search for our precious Willa, for those that prepared meals, for those that helped raised funds, both businesses and personal individuals, for those that welcomed us back home while standing in the freezing cold, to those who gave freely of their time and talents, we say thank you and may God bless you,” he said in January.
[Screengrab of Tonto Basin via ABC 15]
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