An Arizona couple whose two children and niece drowned when the family drove into a flooded creek in 2019 were sentenced on Thursday.
Daniel and Lacey Rawlings were given supervised probation without jail time.
After hearing numerous statements from friends and family members, Judge Timothy Wright sentenced Daniel to 60 months of probation and 1,000 hours of community service. Lacey received 48 months of supervised probation and 480 hours of community service.
The incident occurred on Nov. 29, 2019 after a season of heavy rain in the area north of Phoenix. Authorities had placed a barricade to turn vehicles away from the flooded Bar X Crossing at Tonto Creek.
Daniel was driving a military-style vehicle with seven children in the back. Authorities allege that he drove the vehicle around the barricade and through the creek — something he had done several times earlier that day. This time, however, the vehicle was swept up in the rushing water.
The parents and four of the children were rescued by helicopter. The bodies of the couple’s 5-year-old son, Colby, and the boy’s cousin, 5-year-old Austin, were recovered the following morning.
Nearly two weeks later, the body of Colby’s sister, 6-year-old Willa, was found on the edge of a lake several miles away.
Initially, Daniel and Lacey were each charged with seven counts of child abuse. In addition, Daniel, who was behind the wheel of the vehicle, was charged with three counts of involuntary manslaughter.
In December, Daniel pleaded guilty to three counts of manslaughter and seven counts of child abuse. Lacey pleaded guilty to one count of child abuse.
“It is a mistake I agonize over every minute, and I will continue to agonize over it for the rest of my life,” Lacey said in court on Thursday afternoon. “I’m so sorry.”
Holding back tears, Lacey spoke about her surviving children.
“They are my world,” she said. “My kids are the reason I get out of bed every single day. My kids are the reason I found a way to move on. They deserve a happy life. They deserve a mother who tries her absolute hardest to give them everything they need.”
Then Daniel took the stand and read a prepared statement.
“I wish every day that I could go back and relive and redo the events of that horrific day,” he said. “I wish could take that trauma and carry it myself. I wish I could take everybody’s pain and bottle it up and hold it myself because nobody deserves to endure pain that I have caused them.”
While most of their family members spoke on the couple’s behalf, at least one relative urged the judge not to be too lenient.
“Black Friday has taken on a whole new meaning for me,” said Lynn Morey, grandmother of Austin. “Thanksgiving has never been the same since. That feeling of dread lingers throughout the weekend, overshadowing everything our family does, despite our attempts to live through this, be grateful and move on.”
Morey told the judge that she still has nightmares about the incident. “Cutting corners when it comes to children’s safety is a deal-breaker.”
The couple’s probation begins immediately. If they don’t break the law again, they will not receive jail time for the incident.