GLOBE, Ariz. (AP) — An Arizona couple who drove through floodwaters in 2019, resulting in the deaths of their two children and niece, are pleading guilty to charges rather than face a trial.
Daniel and Lacey Rawlings entered into plea agreements Monday, according to the Gila County attorney’s office.
Daniel Rawlings will plead guilty to three counts of manslaughter and seven counts of child abuse. Lacey Rawlings will plead guilty to child abuse, one count for every child in the vehicle at the time. Under her agreement, she will be on supervised probation for four years.
The Rawlings were scheduled to go on trial next March in Gila County Superior Court, the clerk’s office said. Now, they will be sentenced on Jan. 27.
Daniel Rawlings’ attorney, Bruce Griffen, said Wednesday that the Rawlings were willing to forego the trial when plea negotiations with prosecutors led to the possibility they could be sentenced to probation.
“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.
A message left with an assistant to Lacey Rawlings’ attorney was not immediately returned Thursday.
The couple, along with seven other family members, were riding a military-style truck near Tonto Basin, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) northeast of Phoenix, on Nov. 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 traverse Tonto Creek.
The truck ended up stuck. The couple and four other children were able to climb out and be rescued by helicopter. Their 6-year-old daughter, Willa, 5-year-old son, Colby, and 5-year-old niece, Austin, remained in the vehicle, which got 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.