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Tonto Creek bridge set to open years after 3 young children died

Nearly five years after three young children died in northern Arizona’s Tonto Creek, Gila County is using a $21 million federal grant to build a bridge over part of the stream.

County officials announced Wednesday that the bridge is more than 94% complete and should have two-way traffic crossing by the end of this month. The project began in September 2022, funded by the county and a Federal Highway Administration grant.

The bridge was designed to help people who cross the creek daily on their way home or make trips to the grocery store, school and post office.

Tonto Creek is nearly 73 miles long on the north edge of the Tonto National Forest, and the stream flows year round.

In November 2019, a couple headed to a family member's home tried to cross the swollen creek with seven children in their military-style vehicle. The couple disregarded signs and barricades that told motorists not to cross.

The husband and wife and four of the children managed to get out of the vehicle and were rescued. But three other children — a 5-year-old boy, a 6-year-old girl and a 5-year-old male cousin — were swept away and died.

The couple avoided prison terms and were each sentenced to several years of probation in January 2022.

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