Arizona governor: Building bridge where children died a priority

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PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said Tuesday he will work to find money in next year’s state budget to help build a bridge over a rural creek where a family was swept away last week.

Two children were found dead after Friday’s incident on Tonto Creek and a search is ongoing for a missing 6-year-old girl.

Gila County has applied repeatedly for federal funds to pay for a bridge over the crossing where the family truck was swept away while trying to traverse the swollen creek, but hasn’t won a grant for the project, according to county spokeswoman Jacque Sanders. About 1,000 people are cut off when the creek floods during heavy rains.

The governor told reporters that with the state in a good financial position, looking at ways to fund a $20 million bridge to serve the small community is in the mix. The county has sought $17 million in federal funds and would pay for the remainder.

“We’re going to look at the infrastructure needs of the state and I’ve heard the asks on this bridge,” Mr. Ducey said. “It certainly is going to be considered in this budget season.”

Gila County Sheriff’s Lt. Virgil Dodd said Tuesday that about 60 law enforcement search and rescue team members were searching for Willa Rawlings. More than 300 civilian volunteers also were involved in the search of about 5 miles of creek bed.

Mr. Dodd said searchers continue to hold out hope.

“There’s still a slight chance that this little girl could have hiked up the river or something,” he said. “That’s why I want to keep it open for now.”

The couple whose truck was swept down the runoff-swollen creek, Daniel and Lacey Rawlings, told azfamily.com on Monday they are grateful to emergency personnel and volunteers searching for their daughter. The bodies of the couple’s 5-year-old son and a 5-year-old niece were found Saturday, a day after a nine-member family group tried to a cross a creek in a military-style truck.

The couple didn’t want to discuss what happened Friday or why they tried the cross the creek with their four children and three nieces.

“I will say one thing,” Daniel Rawlings said. “People go around the barricades all the time. I’m not justifying my actions one bit.”

The crossing had been closed with barricades and signs because of a storm that dropped an estimated 2 inches of rain in the Tonto Basin area.

Mr. Ducey said people need to pay attention when roads are flooded, or creeks are running high.

“When we do have inclement weather, if people will heed the warnings from the authorities we’ll have a much better situation,” he said.

The county’s federal grant application said five people had died crossing the creek in the past 25 years. That was before last Friday’s tragedy.

Friends said the Rawlings family is heavily involved in their community and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Daniel Rawlings is a church leader and helps run a family contracting business.

His grandparents founded the area’s first movie theater in Show Low, according to old newspaper articles, and later opened a drive-in theater for recreational vehicles.

Friend David Merrill said the Rawlings family volunteers in cemetery cleanups, and Lacey Rawlings’ family gets together each year to make and distribute clothing and toiletries to people in need.

“They’re loved by thousands and thousands of people,” said Mr. Merrill, one of hundreds of volunteers who joined the search on Sunday.

Funeral services were planned Friday for Austin Rawlings.

“We ask those attending the service to please dress colorfully and bring your smiles,” her mom, Lauren Rawlings, wrote on Facebook.

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