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Crash And Burn

By Patti Vickers
Posted at March 16, 2003 - 8:39 PM GMT

Plot Summary: Gil, Sara and Catherine arrive on the scene of a fatal MVA. It appears that the lone female occupant of a Jaguar, who is apparently about 65 or 70 years old, has crashed into a restaurant full of diners. Also on the scene is Hank, Sara’s EMT boyfriend, but he’s not working: With a broken wrist and slight concussion, for the first time, Hank finds himself part of the scene instead of merely working it.

Grissom leaves the scene with Catherine and Sara taking the lead, having to meet Nick to investigate an apparent residential natural gas leak that resulted in a single fatality, despite the fact that there were three people in the house. At the new scene, Nick and Grissom note that the dead woman, Vanessa Arnz, is lying in bed and is hot pink in colour, which is an indicator of carbon monoxide poisoning versus natural gas. Randall Arnz, the dead woman’s husband is alive; claiming that he woke up because he was cold after his wife stole the blankets. Also in the house is the couple’s 18-year-old son, Peter. Grissom questions Peter, who is decidedly moody, but not showing any signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Peter tells Grissom that he didn’t hear a thing until the police and paramedics arrived at their house.

Dr. Roberts has completed his autopsy on Diane Lambert and rules the cause of a death a subdermal haematoma, from the impact of her head hitting the dashboard. After further investigation, Catherine and Warrick have discovered that Mrs. Lambert was going more than twice the speed limit at impact, and while she braked at impact, had apparently accelerated into the building. Sara completes a thorough check of the Jaguar, which is equipped with a GPS, and can see no mechanical reason for the crash. Sara asks Dr. Roberts to take another look at Mrs. Lambert to see if there were any pre-existing medical conditions that could account for the accident. Dr. Roberts notes there is a scar on Mrs. Lambert’s abdomen, indicating much earlier surgery. In addition, the tox screen indicated that Mrs. Lambert, who had glaucoma, had trace amount of marijuana in her system, but not enough to make her legally impaired. He also tells Sara that Mrs. Lambert had high levels of hormones in a her blood stream – the same hormones that are seen in the bodies of kamikaze pilots about to make their suicide run. Based on these facts, Sara theorizes that Mrs. Lambert intended to crash her car and kill herself and potentially others. The question is why.

Grissom and Nick head back at the Arnz crime scene. The medical examiner has determined that, despite Mrs. Arnz’s having a high level of a sleeping pill in her system, carbon monoxide poisoning was the cause of death. The level in her blood was 46.2 % -- an extremely high figure, but which was somewhat elevated because she was a smoker. As a result of the findings, Nick proceeds to examine the fireplace in the Arnz’s bedroom. He notes that damper is not functioning properly and finds a foreign substance in the back of the fireplace. The two investigators go to speak to Mr. Arnz and Peter about their findings. When questioning Mr. Arnz, they ask him about the sleeping pills and he admits to putting the pills in his wife’s food. After a sixteen-hour work day, all he wants is sleep – and the best way to get it, he determined, was to give his wife the sleeping pills that were prescribed to him. They also ask him about the broken damper in the fireplace and he tells Grissom and Nick that Peter had been asked to fix it and told his father the job had been done. While speaking to Mr. Arnz, Grissom notices a nicotine patch on his arm. Gil asks him when he quit smoking, and Mr. Arnz indicates that it had been only about three weeks. Peter and Gil speak, and Peter tells Gil that he lied about fixing the damper, and displays open contempt for both of his parents.

In the interim, Catherine downloads DMV files and attaches pictures to restaurant seating plan. When it is clear that Hank was sitting with a woman named Elaine, Sara visits the woman at her home to find out not only what she knows about the accident, but also what she knows about Hank. At her home, Elaine tells Sara that she works for Sillmott Healthcare, an HMO. She agrees to check the company files to see if Diane Lambert was a client of Sillmott. In the apartment, Sara notices pictures of Elaine and Hank. Elaine notices Sara’s interest and tells her the picture is of her and her boyfriend on a trip – and that they are just about to take another one. Unsettled by this news, Sara leaves Elaine her card and asks her to get back to her on Diane Lambert.

The foreign substance found in the back of the Arnz’s fireplace is determined to be charcoal. Once again, Gil goes back to the Arnz crime scene. While examining a fish tank in Peter’s room, Peter returns to the house. As they begin to talk, it’s apparent Gil has done some digging on Peter Arnz and discovered that he’s highly intelligent. In fact, he has been offered early admission to Princeton. Nick and Gil further question Peter and find out that, while he has been offered admission to Princeton, he will not be going – his parents couldn’t afford to send him. Angry and resentful, he put the charcoal in his parents’ fireplace knowing the results. What he hadn’t noticed was his father quit smoking. By the time his father woke up, the carbon monoxide levels were only high enough to kill his mother. His father’s levels had returned to normal in the short time he had quit smoking, saving his life.

Catherine and Sara visit Elaine and a colleague at Sillmot Healthcare. Mrs. Lambert was a client of the HMO, and upon review of her file, Sara notes that Mrs. Lambert had requested approval for the treatment of a reoccurrence of colon cancer. Despite over 80 calls to their offices the previous month, Sillmott had not yet approved Mrs. Lambert’s request, causing Catherine and Sara to speculate out loud that Sillmott was actually hoping Mrs. Lambert would die before they would have to pay out for the treatment. The restaurant Mrs. Lambert crashed into was not only frequented by Sillmott employees, but had virtually the same address as the HMO – the restaurant was located at 16 North Meadows , while the HMO was located at 16 South Meadows. She had simply punched the wrong address into her GPS.

As she’s leaving the building, Sara runs into Hank. Hank apologizes – but clearly it’s not enough for Sara.


As a true crime and forensic science buff, I look forward to every week’s episode of CSI probably more than I should. While I am not a scientist, and cannot (generally) tell you if the science in the episode is good or bad, I thoroughly enjoy the process of discovery associated with each episode. I must admit to have figured out the ending of both cases in this week’s episode about ten minutes into the show – but it didn’t stop me from enjoying the episode. The solution isn’t the end all of CSI – it’s the voyage. Yes, Peter killed his mother, but how? What are physiological reasons behind her death? That’s where the discovery lies: for example, while I knew that people who smoke have higher carbon levels than those who do not, it never occurred to me knowledge of that fact could play a part in a murder.

Part of the discovery in this week’s episode was the discovery of a bit more about a character: Much like Law & Order, CSI relies heavily on story and science to move the show forward. Only occasionally do we get glimpses into the people behind the gadgets. That’s where, I believe, the strength of this episode lies.

After three years, we know very little about Sara Sidle, except that she’s a great CSI. She can handle just about any problem thrown at her, and work at it with a tireless dedication that is highly admirable. We’re aware that, like the rest of her colleagues, she’s not perfect and been wounded in some seemingly impenetrable, unknown way. Despite all the science (and there is a lot this week) in the two cases that make up the majority of 'Crash and Burn', the real highlight of the show is Sara. She illustrates one of the major themes of the show: despite the pain it may cause, the evidence doesn’t lie. She works through the facts of the case with her usual diligence, but like any other human being, is affected when the mounting evidence points to not only a conclusion in the case, but a painful conclusion to a period of her life.

One of the other high points of the episode for me was the symmetry between the two cases: We’ve got a kid who wants to go to college so bad, he kills to try and get it. We’ve got a kid whose grandmother wants him to go to college so bad that before she kills herself and leaves him all her money, she makes him promise to go. And ultimately because of both of their actions, neither dream will be realized.

I had a few problems with the episode. For example, my jaw hit the floor when it was revealed the car involved in the crash is a relatively new Jaguar, but there are no airbags. And no one made a single comment about it. Also, Peter has been offered early admission to Princeton, but can’t afford to go – if this kid is the genius were are led to believe, are there no scholarships that could help defray the costs and potentially make it affordable for his parents? And lastly, Sara has to visit our usually meticulous Dr. Roberts three times to get the goods on Diane Lambert, and he still doesn't uncover the colon cancer. I couldn’t help but feel if it were Grissom asking the questions of Dr. Roberts, we would have had the answers we needed much earlier.

I wish we’d learned a little bit more about Sara, what makes her tick and seen a little more interaction between Catherine and Sara. The final moments of the episode, where Catherine, in her way expresses sorrow for what Sara just had to go through, is lovely in its simple execution. But every little glimpse we get of the people behind the science helps round out and already successful series.

Discuss this reviews at Talk CSI!

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Patti Vickers reviews CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and CSI: Miami episodes for CSI Files.

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