Coming home to open arms - Colby, Austin & Willa

Funeral services were recently held for Colby, 5, Austin, 5, and Willa Rawlings, 6, who died in a swollen Tonto Creek after heavy rains moved through the area.

A White Mountains couple are facing charges in connection with the death of three children who drowned in Tonto Creek last year.

On Friday, Daniel and Lacey Rawlings of Show Low were scheduled to appear for a telephonic hearing with Gila County Division II- Payson Judge Tim Wright.

The Gila County Attorney’s Office is charging Daniel with three counts of manslaughter and seven counts of child abuse and Lacey with seven counts of child abuse.

Earlier in the week, the Gila County Sheriff’s Office wrapped up its investigation, sending a lengthy report to the GCAO, according to Sheriff Adam Shepherd.

Shepherd would not comment on the contents of the report, and Gila County Attorney Bradley Beauchamp would not respond to requests for comment.

The GCAO filed their complaint April 1, according to court documents.

The complaints, filed by Bradley Soos, chief deputy county attorney, state Daniel recklessly caused the death of three children using a dangerous instrument, a motor vehicle. It also alleges Daniel and Lacey each committed child abuse by placing the seven children in a situation where they were endangered.

On Nov. 29, Daniel reportedly drove a large, military-style vehicle around “road-closed” barricades and into the flooded creek at the Bar X Crossing with his wife and seven children in tow, according to the GCSO.

The vehicle got stuck in the rising waters and three of the children were swept downstream. Colby, 5, his sister Willa, 6, and Austin Rawlings, 5, their cousin, drowned.

On Nov. 30, searchers found the bodies of Colby and Austin. Willa’s body was found Dec. 13 in Roosevelt Lake.

On Jan. 7, Daniel appeared at a Show Low City Council meeting to express gratitude to the community for their support.

“It is a true honor to live here in the White Mountains and in this city that I have been able to be a part of for quite some time,” read Daniel.

Rep. Walt Blackman, District 6, asked the county attorney to reevaluate charging the couple.

“The behavior of Mr. and Mrs. Rawlings is indefensible and there should be some sort of consequence for their actions,” Blackman wrote. “However, because of their inappropriate actions, the natural consequence facing Mr. and Mrs. Rawlings is a heavy burden they for the remainder of their lives have to carry which in my humble opinion is equal to a life sentence. To charge these parents now is utterly taking this in the wrong direction.”

After the accident, county officials, along with state representatives, called for funding to build a bridge across the creek.

Earlier this year, bills to fund bridge construction over Tonto Creek in Tonto Basin won approval in both the Arizona Senate and House. Lawmakers were to look at both bills to come up with a final bill to send through to the Legislature or, according Gila County manager James Menlove, the matter could be included in the 2020-21 appropriations bill.

Both bills seek $15 million from the state’s allocation to the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Contact the editor at abechman@payson.com

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