Crash & Burn
Season 3
Number 17
Writer Josh Berman
Director Richard J. Lewis
Original Airdate March 13, 2003
Previous Episode: Lucky Strike
Next Episode: Precious Metal

Crash & Burn is the seventeenth episode in Season Three of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.


Sara finds out some disturbing news about her boyfriend Hank while she, Catherine and Warrick investigate a deadly accident, after an elderly woman crashes her car into a crowded restaurant. Meanwhile, Grissom and Nick find out that the death of a woman who died of carbon monoxide poisoning was not an accident.


Victims: Diane Lambert, multiple restaurant patrons (all deceased)

On the case: Catherine Willows, Sara Sidle, Warrick Brown, Jim Brass

During happy hour in a restaurant, a Jaguar drives through the front window, killing two people and leaving four in critical condition. The driver, an elderly woman, is unresponsive at the scene. Catherine, Grissom and Sara arrive; Grissom notes that the car is dry, meaning the incident happened before it started raining. Also on the scene is Hank, Sara’s EMT boyfriend; however, he has civilian clothes on. Sara notices that he has a broken left wrist, and he tells Sara that he was in the restaurant when the accident occurred. They're soon able to get a faint heartbeat on the driver.

Sara finishes taping up Hank's wrist and he leaves to go the hospital. Grissom informs Sara that she and Catherine will run the evidence on the case, as he has been called to a residential gas leak. He tells Sara that she needs to talk to the restaurant manager, Fred Lychock. Fred provides Sara with a computerized seating chart and tells her he was behind the bar at the cash register when the accident occurred. Sara meets up with Catherine and they notice an old GPS unit inside the car, which they find odd for a luxury vehicle.

Sara visits the hospital, where an officer tells her that the driver, Diane Lambert, doesn't look like she's going to survive. Her grandson, Corey, is sitting in the hallway. He tells her that Diane won the Jaguar playing slots in a casino, but the GPS was a gift from him for her birthday, as she got lost and scared sometimes. Corey is also unsure as to why his grandmother was driving in Vegas, as they live in Laughlin. During the questioning, Sara notices Hank comforting a woman in a wheelchair. She excuses herself from the conversation and walks over to Hank. He tells her that another person has died and that, in eight years on the job, he has never actually been a part of an accident scene. Sara offers him a ride, but he awkwardly excuses himself from the conversation.

Outside of the restaurant, Catherine and Warrick are looking over the area. Warrick sees a red light camera, and Catherine tells him she doesn't remember any of the witnesses saying that Diane ran a red light. Catherine spots fresh motor oil on the curb and notes that either the car wasn't working or the driver wasn't. They see tire treads inside of the restaurant, meaning Diane waited too long to try to stop the car.

Diane dies in the hospital. In autopsy, Doc Robbins tells Sara that Diane's cause of death was epidural hematoma; her head impacted the steering wheel. Sara questions Diane's health before the accident, but Doc Robbins tells her that he ruled out all age-related factors, such as a stroke or Alzheimer's. Diane did have part of her colon removed, but the doc can find no physiological explanation for the crash.

Sara goes over the GPS from the car and finds that Diane drove to the exact address she had plugged into the unit. Greg enters and tells Sara that Diane tested positive for marijuana, but Doc Robbins informs her that Diane didn't test high enough to be legally impaired. Sara wonders if repeated marijuana use over the years slowed down Diane's reaction time, but the doc says this isn't possible. He leads Sara over to the body, where she sees that Diane suffered from glaucoma. Doc Robbins didn't check for this until the toxicology results came back. Despite Sara's insistence that the glaucoma could have impaired Diane's driving, the doc insists that this isn't the case.

Meanwhile, Catherine has digitally reconstructed the seating arrangements from the restaurant based off of photos from the DMV database. She asks Sara who Elaine Alcott is, as she was sitting with Hank. Sara assumes that she and Hank are just friends since she saw the two of them together at the hospital. Catherine says that there were 36 people in the restaurant, with 12 of them working for a healthcare company a block away and another ten working for the brokerage firm across the street. Warrick enters with the red light camera photo showing that Diane ran the light going 52 MPH, more than twice the speed limit. He notes that the tire treads show that the brakes on the car work, so perhaps something else in the car malfunctioned, causing the car to accelerate. In the department garage, Sara goes over the car and finds nothing wrong with it. Warrick tells her that he did a little digging; the particular red light camera in this case catches four times as many infractions as any other red light camera in the city. This hints at the intersection being very dangerous.

Sara and Warrick revisit the intersection and note that one of the buildings has mirrored glass on it, which could cause a major glare as the sun set in the sky. However, after performing some calculations, they figure out that the sun was behind the trees on the street when the accident occurred. Therefore, the sun and its glare weren't a factor.

Catherine is looking at a digital recreation of the crash and tells Sara that, although the red light camera clocked Diane at 52 MPH, computer software had her going 60 MPH when she entered the building. This means she actually accelerated after running through the light. Sara talks to Doc Robbins again, this time asking for a blood panel. The report says that Diane had high levels of hormones in a her bloodstream—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 Diane intended to drive two hours from her home in order to crash her car and kill herself and potentially others. The question is why.

Sara wonders if the crash was intentional and questions whether the target was someone inside the restaurant or the restaurant itself. She and Catherine look into the people sitting by the window first, discovering that three of the five people sitting by the window worked for Sillmont Healthcare, including Elaine. Sara goes to talk to Elaine, who doesn't recognize Diane from her photo. She does oversee policyholders, though, so she gets up to check her records. While Elaine is doing this, Sara notices a photo of Elaine with Hank. Elaine identifies Hank as her boyfriend, adding that the two are scheduled to take a trip to Tahiti soon. She tells Sara that she can't find Diane's name on her list, but can check the company database. A flustered Sara abruptly leaves and hands Elaine her business card.

Brass informs Catherine and Sara that the week before, Diane had closed out her bank accounts, paid off her credit card, and updated her will. Phone records indicate one call to the Las Vegas area, with the number appearing dozens of times. Sara dials the number and reaches Sillmont Healthcare. She asks for the address and the woman on the line tells her it's 16 South Meadows Lane. Catherine notes that the car's GPS was set for 16 North Meadows Lane. The three are left wondering whether the wrong address in the GPS was intentional or whether it was a flaw in the system. Sara asks the one question on everyone's mind: why was Diane Lambert so angry?

Catherine and Sara visit Sillmont Healthcare, where it turns out Diane was part of the HMO. It doesn't appear that Diane had a problem with the policy. Since Diane is deceased, her records are allowed to be shared, as doctor-client privilege no longer exists. Sara finds that Diane had colon cancer that started recurring two months before, which is right about the same time she was calling the healthcare company multiple times per day. Diane's oncologist had recommended treatment, but it had not yet been approved or denied by the HMO. Her health was in limbo, but she couldn't file an appeal because her claim hadn't technically been denied yet. The HMO was playing the odds, hoping Diane would die before they had to pay out any money. They deny any liability for Diane's actions.

Back at the station, Sara tells Catherine they missed something. In the interrogation room, they question Diane's grandson, Corey. Sara tells him that Diane hadn't put an email address down on her policy and guesses that she probably wasn't technologically savvy. It's likely the GPS unit was intimidating to her and that she probably didn't know how to use it. Sara printed the GPS unit and found Corey's prints on it. Corey confirms that he installed the unit, but Sara says his prints were on the face, too; this means he had punched the address in, as well. Catherine tells him that if he knew what his grandmother's intentions were, he's guilty in aiding and abetting in the murder of three people.

Corey recounts that Diane came by his place the week before because she didn't know how to work the GPS. A flashback shows him teaching Diane how to use the GPS, showing her that you just have to type an address in and it tells you where to go. He denies knowing what his grandmother's plans were. They've also been notified that Diane had a life insurance policy on which Corey was the sole beneficiary. He claims he had no idea, but remembers a conversation he had with her in which she made him promise that he was going to go back to college when he had enough money to do so. Sara tells him that Diane's death was ruled a suicide, which nullifies the insurance policy and prevents money from being paid out. Corey doesn't appear to care about the money and is more upset that his grandmother killed herself and three other people. Though not explicitly stated, it's assumed that Diane meant to drive into the healthcare building but inputted the wrong address into the GPS.

As Catherine and Sara leave the interrogation room, they find Hank waiting for Sara in the hallway. He knows that she met Elaine; Sara tells him she didn't tell Elaine about them. Hank apologizes, but it's clearly not enough for Sara, who leaves the building.

Victim: Vanessa Arnz (deceased)

On the case: Gil Grissom, Nick Stokes, Cyrus Lockwood

Grissom meets Nick and Det. Cyrus Lockwood at the house of Vanessa Arnz, where a gas leak had been reported. She has been found dead in her master bedroom. Nick peeks in their son Peter's room and sees a bunch of science things on the desk. They meet David Phillips in the bedroom; he shows them that Vanessa's body is a bright pink. This indicates that she died from carbon monoxide inhalation, not natural gas. Grissom questions why her husband, who was in bed with her, didn't die, as well. Nick says the answer is to find the source of the carbon monoxide first before answering that question.

Outside, Grissom and Det. Lockwood speak to Mr. Arnz, who says he woke up in the middle of the night because he was cold. He remembers his head spinning, then noticed Vanessa not breathing. Unable to wake her, he called 911 then passed out. Grissom notices the 18-year-old Peter standing off to the side and goes to question him. Peter was unaffected by the carbon monoxide leak. He tells Grissom he was asleep when heard the doorbell; it was the paramedics. Grissom tries to sympathize with Peter, but he gets rebuffed.

Nick is in the house searching for the source of the carbon monoxide. Det. Lockwood tells him that the two most common causes of accidental carbon monoxide poisonings are unvented space heaters and improperly maintained chimneys. He notes that there are no space heaters, and Nick zeroes in on the fireplace. The highest carbon monoxide reading is coming from the fireplace, which Nick says is out of place since it burns natural gas. He spots a foreign substance on the fireplace floor that's warm to the touch and believes something else was burning in the room. He also notes that smoke is supposed to go up into the chimney and funnel out instead of filling the room. Nick looks up the chimney and sees the damper is damaged. Combined with the foreign substance found, he believes that this was no accident.

In the lab, the mass spectrometer identifies the substance in the fireplace as pure carbon. David Hodges tells Grissom and Nick that the substance is porous. Under the microscope, Grissom sees that it could be activated charcoal, which Nick says can be used in filtration systems, kitty litter, and some medications.

Greg pages Grissom and Nick and says that Vanessa's cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning; the blood saturation level was 46.2%. Vanessa also tested positive for nicotine since she was a smoker, and she had taken some sleeping pills the night of her death. Mr. Arnz's blood saturation level was 36%, which Grissom says isn't surprising since he wasn't a smoker. However, Greg tells him that Mr. Arnz had nicotine in his system, as well. So, why did Vanessa die and he didn't? Greg informs Grissom and Nick that he also did some digging and found out the sleeping pills were actually prescribed to Mr. Arnz.

Grissom and Nick visit the hardware store Mr. Arnz owns, and Grissom finds Peter reading. They share an intellectual conversation about Isaac Asimov and Grissom concludes that Peter is a scientist. Mr. Arnz interrupts and has Peter, who works at the store, unload some boxes. They talk to Mr. Arnz, who says that he works long hours to help keep the store open due to a competitor moving in down the block. He admits to putting sleeping pills in Vanessa's ice cream because she would complain to him about his long hours and his lack of focus on her. This, in turn, prevented him from sleeping. He says it was an accident at first, but since it worked in his favor the first time, he did it again. Grissom notices a nicotine patch on Mr. Arnz's arm, and Mr. Arnz confirms that he quit smoking three weeks before. Nick asks him if he knew the damper in the chimney was busted. Mr. Arnz brings up Peter's name before asking if Vanessa's death was his fault.

Back in the Arnz house, Grissom is looking through Peter's room and finds a fish tank. He removes the filter to observe it and gets interrupted by Peter, who has ignored the crime scene tape in the front of his house and entered it. Peter asks Grissom if he looks stupid to him; Grissom replies that it's quite the opposite. He's heard that Peter has a near-perfect 4.0 GPA. Grissom tells him that they run background checks on all principles of the crime scene and found out that Peter threatened his English teacher because he was getting a B. As Peter feeds his fish, Grissom tells him to check his filter—he's out of charcoal.

Peter is brought into the station for questioning. In the interrogation room, Grissom asks Peter why he didn't fix the chimney damper in his parent's room, per his father's request. Peter admits to lying about fixing it so that he would be left alone, adding that he refused to listen to his father, who only has a tenth-grade education. Nick tells him that they know he took advantage of the broken damper and that he took charcoal from the fish tank and sprinkled it in the fireplace, waiting for his parents to light the fireplace like they did every night. Peter thought that the charcoal would burn up, destroying all evidence. However, Mr. Arnz woke up and called 911.

Grissom and Nick converse with each other, wondering why Mr. Arnz's blood saturation level was 10% lower than his wife's. Nick notes that two people exposed to the same level of carbon monoxide for the same period of time should have similar blood saturation levels. Peter says this is true as long as the variables—body mass, health, age—are consistent. He also confirms that whether a person is a smoker is a deciding factor, as well. To Peter's surprise, Grissom reveals that Mr. Arnz had quit smoking three weeks earlier. Nick tells Peter that since his father had quit smoking, his carbon monoxide saturation levels had returned to zero.

Grissom tells Peter he made a simple scientific mistake—he stopped observing the human element because he thought it was inferior. Nick asks Peter why he wanted to kill his parents; he had been accepted to Princeton and would soon be out of the house and out from under their control. Grissom correctly guesses that Peter tried to kill his parents because they weren't going to let him go to Princeton. They refused to pay for school and Peter didn't qualify for any financial aid. Nick guesses that Peter was going to get rid of both of his parents, sell his father's business, and pay for his tuition. Peter agrees with this assessment.


Main Cast[]

Guest Cast[]

  • Wallace Langham as David Hodges
  • David Berman as David Phillips
  • Christopher Wiehl as Hank Peddigrew
  • Jeffrey D. Sams as Cyrus Lockwood
  • Joseph Patrick Kelly as Officer Joe Metcalf
  • Jonathan Tucker as Peter Arnz
  • Jeremy Roberts as Mr. Arnz
  • Dahlia Salem as Elaine Alcott
  • Christopher Gorham as Corey Lambert
  • Kevin Richardson as Fred Lychock
  • James Sutorius as Sillmont Health Insurance Rep.
  • Kim Gillingham as Vanessa Arnz
  • Tom Lagleder as Firefighter
  • Todd E. Slayton as Larry, Paramedic
  • Nicole Basanda as Rachel Krandall
  • John Dixon as Tom Krandall
  • Sandra Lee Gimpel as Diane Lambert
  • Christopher Leps as Bartender
  • Pat Millicano as Cameron Black

Major Events[]

  • This episode marks the final appearance of Hank Peddigrew. Sara broke up with him after she finds out she was the 'other woman' in the relationship.


Sara: An old Jaguar with a GPS unit. That's strange.
Catherine: Yeah, not your granny's Oldsmobile.


  • Wild Horses by The Sundays



  • When Sara is showing Greg the route the old woman took in her car, she draws a blue line on the screen with her finger. When she says something about turning left she draws a continuous line to the "Meadows Lane," but when the shot changes and goes back the line is broken into two.
  • In the scene where David, Nick and Grissom are looking at the body of the woman who died from carbon monoxide, you can see the corpse breathing right after Nick leaves the room.
  • In the scene where Sara and Warrick are standing in front of the restaurant where the accident occurred a barricade was behind them. In some of the shots it was there and in others it wasn't.
  • In the last scene, neither Catherine or Sara are wearing a seat belt.

See Also[]

CSI:Las Vegas Season 3
Revenge is Best Served ColdThe Accused is EntitledLet the Seller BewareA Little MurderAbra-CadaverThe Execution of Catherine WillowsFight NightSnuffBlood LustHigh and LowRecipe for MurderGot Murder?Random Acts of ViolenceOne Hit WonderLady Heather's BoxLucky StrikeCrash & BurnPrecious MetalA Night at the MoviesLast LaughForeverPlay with FireInside the Box