Parents to Plead Guilty to Avoid Trial in Drowning Deaths of Their 2 Children, Niece

Daniel and Lacey Rawlings drove through floodwaters in Arizona which killed their two children and niece in November 2019. The couple will plead guilty to charges of manslaughter and child abuse to avoid going to trial.

The trial for the children’s death was set to begin in March but Daniel and Lacey accepted plea agreements after the prosecution told them they could potentially be sentenced to only probation instead of serving jail time, Daniel’s attorney Bruce Griffen said on Wednesday.

The pair chose to enter into the plea agreement instead of risking their fate at trial. Daniel will plead guilty to seven counts of child abuse and three counts of manslaughter, the Gila County attorney’s office said.

Lacey also entered into a plea agreement and will plead guilty to three counts of child abuse, one for each child in the car. Additionally, she will have four years of supervised probation.

Lacey and Daniel were in their driving in their truck with seven other family members during a massive rainstorm trying to cross Tonto Creek when their vehicle got stuck.

Their 5-year-old niece Austin, their 6-year-old daughter Willa, and 5-year-old son, Colby were unable to get out of the car before it got swept away by floodwaters and died.

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“They have surviving children that they are responsible for, so their eggs are all in one basket hoping they can stay on a probationary disposition so they can be there for their children,” Griffen said.

Had they been found guilty at trial, Griffen said the Rawlings would have been given mandatory prison sentences.

The date of their sentencing was not immediately known.

During the incident, they were riding a military-style truck near Tonto Basin, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) northeast of Phoenix, on November 29, 2019. A major storm had brought 2 inches (5 centimeters) of rain to the area. Despite barricades and signs indicating the crossing was closed, they attempted to cross.

When the truck got stuck the couple and four other children were able to climb out and be rescued by helicopter before the car was swept away.

The bodies of Colby and Austin were found the next day. Willa’s body was recovered two weeks later 20 miles (32 kilometers) from where she went missing.

Their deaths spurred the award last year of a $21 million federal grant to Gila County to build a bridge over Tonto Creek. Eight people have died trying to cross the creek during flooding since 1995, state lawmakers said.

A message left with an assistant to Lacey Rawlings’ attorney was not immediately returned Thursday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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