LDS Trek 1

In this June 2018 image, walking along the right side of the “trek” cart is Daniel Rawlings representing “Pa” and Lacey Rawlings representing “Ma.”

GILA COUNTY — A White Mountain couple faces felony charges in connection with the death of three children that drowned in Tonto Creek last year when Daniel Rawlings, 36, the father and uncle to the children, allegedly attempted to drive across the rain-swollen creek on Nov. 29, 2019.

rawlings kids.jpg

On November 29, 2019, Colby, Austin & Willa Rawlings were swept away by floodwaters at the Bar X Road crossing in Tonto Basin. Colby, age 5 and Willa, age 6, were siblings. Austin Rawlings, age 5, was their cousin.

Daniel Rawlings, a local contractor, is charged with three counts of manslaughter, Class 2 felonies and seven counts of child abuse, Class 3 felonies. His wife Lacey Rawlings is charged with seven counts of child abuse, all Class 3 felonies. The three counts of manslaughter against Daniel arise from the death of three of the children. The other seven counts of child abuse are based on the prosecutors’ belief that the couple “recklessly permitted (the children) to be placed in a situation where the person or health of a child is endangered,” according to the complaint.

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 as passengers, according to the Gila County Sheriff’s Office. The vehicle got stuck in the rising waters and three of the children were swept downstream. Rawlings’ son and daughter Colby, 5, and Willa, 6, and their cousin, Austin Rawlings, 5, drowned. Austin was Daniel’s bother’s child.

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

The case came on for a hearing last Monday in the Gila County Superior Court, sitting in Globe. Judge Timothy M. Wright is assigned to this case. The Rawlings were not physically present, but the attorney for Lacey Rawlings, Kathryn G. Mahady of the Flagstaff firm of Aspey, Watkins & Diesel, PLLC appeared by phone. Daniel is represented by Flagstaff lawyer Bruce S. Griffin of the Griffen & Stevens Law Firm, PLLC. The State of Arizona is represented by Chief Deputy Gila County Attorney Bradley M. Soos.

The court setting was originally a preliminary hearing, which has been set and re-set a number of times. A preliminary hearing happens after a prosecutor charges a defendant with a felony. The law says that because felonies are serious crimes, another set of eyes must examine the prosecutor’s evidence to confirm that there is probable cause to bring the charges. Sometimes a grand jury makes that determination by handing up an indictment, or as in this case, a judge reviews the evidence at such a hearing; the choice is the prosecutor’s. In the Rawlings case, the county attorney did not impanel a grand jury, possibly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so the prosecutor brought the charges and the case was set to the preliminary hearing, all a very normal process.

rawlings kids.jpg

On November 29, 2019, Colby, Austin & Willa Rawlings were swept away by floodwaters at the Bar X Road crossing in Tonto Basin. Colby, age 5 and Willa, age 6, were siblings. Austin Rawlings, age 5, was their cousin.

That’s when the legal fight started. If the state was going to produce witnesses at the hearing, the defense wanted the complete police reports, supplements and anything else the state has “within 7 days of the preliminary hearing,” said Griffin in an April 20 motion. The materials are needed so the defense could properly examine or cross examine the witnesses, Griffin urged. Sometimes, complete reports and supplements haven’t even been finished yet by law enforcement, in this case, by the GCSO. Griffen wrote that the prosecutors have the material but are “unprofessionally withholding” it.

So the Rawlings asked the court to “compel” the state to hand over those materials before the hearing, originally set for April 17. The state objected to that, arguing that court rules do not explicitly require that, that under court rules, their obligation for disclosure doesn’t kick in until the arraignment, a proceeding which occurs after the preliminary hearing. Besides, the state argued, the materials in this case are “voluminous.”

Judge Wright agreed with the defense and ordered the disclosure of the materials. The state cried foul and promptly appealed Wright’s order to the Arizona Court of Appeals, through a process called a “special action,” an unusual type of appeal that happens before a final decision on a case is made. The Arizona Court of Appeals doesn’t have to hear a special action, and in this case, the appeals court refused to hear it. Not to be flummoxed, the state then appealed the Court of Appeals’ refusal to the Arizona Supreme Court. That action is still pending.

When a party brings a special action, the case stops until the higher courts can sort it out. That is what happened in this case. In fact, the case is “stayed” until Dec. 31, “or if the Supreme Court Denies Special Action Relief,” wrote Judge Wright on August 14.

But that doesn’t mean that there is nothing going on in the case in Gila County. In fact, on August 18, the state asked the court to revoke Daniel’s release and to hold him in jail until the trial. At their very first court hearing, the Rawlings were released pending trial under certain conditions. In its August 18 motion, the state alleges that Daniel has been in contact with the niece and or nephew who survived the tragedy, whom the state say are victims of the child abuse; therefore, he should be taken into custody. The state urges that “No contact with the victims is a standard release condition,” and Rawlings broke that condition.

Not so fast, said defense counsel Griffen. The Rawlings haven’t been given written release conditions to sign and acknowledge because that usually happens at the end of a preliminary hearing and as everybody knows, because the state has appealed the order to compel, there hasn’t yet been a preliminary hearing.

The court has set a hearing on the state’s motion to revoke release conditions — that hearing is set for September 21.

Coincidentally, on Sept. 10, Governor Doug Ducey announced that the many years of effort by state and local authorities to build a bridge over Tonto Creek had produced results. According to a press release from Ducey’s office, the federal government has approved a grant in the amount of $21 million for the bridge. He stated: “Last year, Arizona lost three young lives when the creek was experiencing flooding and high waters. With this partnership, we can help ensure no family in Tonto Basin must endure this terrible grief ever again.”

Reach the reporter at rlynch@wmicentral.com

(30) comments

MtnWitch

Those children died at the hands of reckless parents. They need to go to prison. They drove around a closed sign and intentionally put their children and nephew in harms way and KILLED them. Rawlings strong my &^%*(. Murderers. I feel for those children who no longer breathe.

reader

At least you picked the correct user name for your account and comments.

MtnWitch

Yep. Witch and proud of it.

LaBrujaGringa

No they didn't. Witches aren't about vile, needless, harmful hate. I'm a witch, and I'm APPALLED at this person's behavior.

2Hikers

Agreed.

tnchill

@MtnWotch...you are evil and must burn at the stake of satin. This family has endured more than enough. I do not know them personally, but have worked alongside Daniel in recent past. He is a good man, father, and religious person. I guarantee his intentions were not to lose his son, daughter, or niece. There had been thousands of previous successful crossings & he thought the same for he & his family, especially in a huge military truck. May God bless your evil thoughts & ways....may you never endure that of which the Rawlings family has. ‘Rawlings STRONG”!

MtnWitch

Evil? Well arent we all? I dont go around closed road signs and violate the law. Commit the crimes they did.

Leslie K.

The only thing these parents are guilty of is a gross underestimate of the power of nature and the arrogance of believing that the vehicle in which the family was riding was capable of overcoming that force. How does the state punish these parents for an alarming lack of judgement? What purpose would be served if either parent was forced to serve time in prison and leaving the rest of their children orphans? Their true punishment is living the rest of their lives blaming themselves for the deaths of those children. The incredible cost in both time and money to prosecute them is a waste. The only winners here are the attorneys.

MtnWitch

So they should be free after going around a closed road sign? WOW. They killed those children by their neglect.

Baird7210

Yes they should be free. They have paid enough by the loss of their family. They DID NOT kill those children, the nature of the flood killed those children. Yes they may have had poor judgement but we all have. So back off and stop making it worse. No one asked for your negativity but right now all they need is our love and support.

Shitski

The signs are posted for a reason & they were warned only to go another route. No they should not be free. They may not if killed those babies intentionally but face it... They were killed. Those babies will never know another day. There was a crime, so there needs to be time.

2linden

MWitch - you’ve got to be kidding me. Daniel didn’t try to cross the creek in a go cart! The vehicle he was driving was more than capable of making that crossing if it hadn’t hit a bad spot in the creek bed. Bad decision- maybe, but murderer - not even close. The Rawlings family has already paid for this more than any court sentence could impose.

MtnWitch

Closed road sign. What do you not understand. It doesnt matter what he was in. The road was closed period. And I am an army Veteran. Drove a Hemmtt. I still wouldnt go around a closed road sign. Closed means closed and they broke the law and innocent children died.

Shitski

What about the babies that paid with their lives? I wouldn't say murderer but more than reckless bcuz they were warned by locals who know when it's safe and they went to another crossing. They were joy riding that turned bad. Anybody else would get charged. They put those signs up for a reason plain and simple.

MtnWitch

The SHERIFF even turned them back. The LAW! and they still went.

cakeman

So, so sorry for the children lost in this tragedy, but 21 million dollars for an anti-stupid bridge? please let that sink in for a minute. Let the stupid parents contribute to this cause.

Ben

MtnWitch, there are Rawlings siblings still alive and well in our local community. These kids need their loving parents home with them, not in prison. You know nothing about the family, you assume the road closed sign was the only factor. You're wrong. They are not murderers.

MtnWitch

loving parents? yep loving parents who killed children due to their negligence. prison is what they need, a cold lonely cell so their nightmares can haunt them

MtnWitch

They went around a closed road sign What do you all not understand? But keep giving me your negative energy...I thrive on it. Facts are Facts. They committed a crime a killed those children by VIOLATING the law. A closed road...and they went anyway in an area that is known for being dangerous. I hope they are hung.

MtnWitch

And btw, after they were already told by the Sheriff to stay out after attempting too beforehand. So again. They were told to stay out, went anyway and lives were lost. I dont care if relatives see this. Be angry, at them and their stupidity and egos trying to show off for children.

fishinguy

Some of you need to here what MNTwitch is saying. She or he is not speaking with forked tonged. Look at the facts folks. Stay with the facts and only the facts. The Rawlings were warned, they did not head the warning. They drove around barricades blocking the road. Vehicle did not fool mother nature but them and the ego they have. Yes they wake up every day with this tragedy hanging over them because of stupid decisions that they chose. The children did not make that choice it was made for them. Jail time is required, if not why have laws on the books.

richarddale

So sorry for the parents for their loss and the children that died. No prison sentence will undo or teach anything. The deaths and loss will do that. I hope they win their case against the heartless state and against the heartless people against them.

RayOfSunshine

It’s so sad what happened, and my heart goes out to everyone involved. Being a part of the church I feel As though I’m required to stand behind this family, regardless of how I truly feel, but I can’t. It was an accident, but if someone is speeding down a residential street and Your child runs out and gets hit, you are going want that person prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Does the driver get a free pass if, let’s say, their child was ejected from the car and dies as well? Absolutely not. That makes it even more outrageous. So what’s the difference? Just because he has done it countless of times before without incident doesn’t mean it wasn’t reckless. The same argument can be applied to the speeding scenario. It doesn’t excuse his negligence! It just means he had more opportunities to correct that poor decision! That wash is known for being extremely dangerous when it floods and yet HE made the choice to chance it anyway and children died because of this. I know a lot of people are going to think that I’m being harsh or unfair about my views on this, but I’m simply viewing it in black and white. Just because you’re well established in the community and in the church does not mean that laws should be applied differently to you.

MtnWitch

Accident? They went around a closed road sign AFTER the sheriff already told them to leave. No accident. MANSLAUGHTER

RayOfSunshine

When I say accident I mean his intention wasn’t to kill those children when he drove into the wash. Did you even read my entire comment? I’m agreeing that he should be prosecuted so why are you getting so worked up?

KSO

I was heartbroken when this tragedy occurred! And I’m still heartbroken that there are those who choose to demonize the two people who are suffering the most! Accidents happen every day, the lifetime of sadness and guilt will never end for these two parents! I choose to share in their grief with a sympathetic heart and a strong shoulder of support! I know their family and the goodness they have always exhibited! I pray for to be able to heal and to have the strength to endure this trial!

LoveMyMtn

Did these people make a bad decision by choosing to go around a road closed sign? Yes. Were they unfortunate enough to have a tragic event occur by doing so? Yes. Are they the first people to ever drive around a road closed sign (especially in this particular area)? No. Just because the other law breakers haven't had such a horrific event happen to them while going around a road closed sign doesn't mean they didn't break the law. If you punish one, punish them all!!

Shitski

They were at another crossing when locals kept them from crossing and warning them of the danger yet they wouldn't listen and went to another crossing. Had they listened to the locals who were more than familiar instead of playing hot shot...

Yes they have to live with what they did but unfortunately there's 3 that won't. Just bcuz the outcome of the incident wasn't what anybody wanted but had they listened to the locals who know when not to cross them sweet babies would still be alive.

Is it true they left right after it happened while locals were looking, why is that?

ghost

I have to agree with RayOfSunshine on this one. There are many laws against the many things that many of us do and usually get away with, but sometimes things go horribly wrong because of our actions. When they do, we are held accountable. Usually the results are sad and unfortunate, but the law is the law. Justice is supposed to be blind, so we either have the laws and enforce them equally, or we get rid of them. Which is it going to be?

Wuulfie

Show me one drunk, distracted, impaired or negligent drive that has caused someone else's life to be lost, that doesn't say the same rhetoric about facing made "poor decisions"

Why stop there?

...murders, rapists, hell- your neighbor's kids who got caught shoplifting...

They all "Made a momentary bad decision"

Why should someone's perceived community and religious involvement change the applicable laws?

They shouldn't.

If it was a drunk driver driving around that baracade..and your child was the one who was killed... Would you have the same response.

Nope... Your want someone's head.

Perspective points out our hypocrisies on a daily basis.

Realizing that, accepting the misstep or endeavoring to change our behaviors - that's where there's suddenly pushback,excuses and ignorant arguments.

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