Tonto tragedy

GILA COUNTY, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- The married couple whose two children and niece drowned in floodwaters at Tonto Basin almost exactly a year ago pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and child abuse charges Tuesday morning.

According to Gila County Superior Court, Daniel Rawlings was indicted by a grand jury on three counts of reckless manslaughter and seven counts of child abuse, while his wife, Lacey Rawlings was indicted on seven counts of child abuse.

The couple is being charged in connection to the deaths of their two children and niece after driving through rushing Tonto Basin floodwaters on the day after Thanksgiving in 2019. 

A total of seven children were in the military-style truck when it got swept away in the floodwaters. Daniel, Lacey, and four other children survived. The couple’s daughter, 6-year-old Willa, her little brother Colby, and 5-year-old cousin’s bodies were found in the creek after an extensive search that lasted days.

The Gila County Sheriff’s Office said barricades were up warning drivers of the dangers. 

The couple were arraigned today before Judge Wright. Daniel and Lacey appeared virtually because of COVID-19 precautions.

"It has been a tough time, a rough year. They were indicted to the day when the accident occurred,” said Bruce Griffen, Daniel Rawlings attorney.

The Rawlings will need to be personally present on Monday, Jan. 25 in Payson at 4 p.m. to set the length of trial and the trial date. If they don’t show up, a warrant will be issued for their arrest.

The couple are not in jail during this time.


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