Play with Fire
Season 3
Number 22
Writer Andrew Lipsitz,
Naren Shankar
Director Kenneth Fink
Original Airdate May 8, 2003
Previous Episode: Forever
Next Episode: Inside the Box

Play with Fire is the twenty-second episode in Season Three of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.


Grissom, Nick and Sara investigate the murder of a woman in the press box of a high school stadium. Meanwhile, Catherine and Warrick find out what was the cause of an explosion in one of the labs seriously injuring Greg.


Victim: Alison Carpenter (deceased)

On the case: Gil Grissom, Nick Stokes, Sara Sidle, Jim Brass

Two high schoolers are making out under the bleachers next to the school's football field. They make their way over the press box; when they enter it, they find a dead woman.

On the scene, Brass identifies the woman as Alison Carpenter, age 28. Nick notes that this is a little old for a student, and Brass says he notified the school and they're checking their records. Alison's pupils show signs of petechial hemorrhaging, indicating strangulation. The body hasn't been moved; she died in the press box. Brass notes that the padlock to the door was cut and that it wasn't done recently. Nick finds beer bottles and a used condom, while Grissom notices a mark on Alison's wrist which could be from defensive wounds. He thinks it could be sexual assault and notes that Alison isn't wearing any underwear. Grissom also spots a mark on the body, which he finds came from the door hitting her. He notices sweat on her upper lip and makes David Phillips take a liver temperature. Alison's liver temperature is 98.1 degrees, meaning she died less than an hour before—and the killer is still on her.

Nick rushes out and brings back a makeshift tent that will be used to trap any DNA on the body. Grissom, Nick, and David erect the tent and fume it. When the process is done, Grissom is unable to find anything usable on the neck; however, Nick finds a partial print on the ankle. Grissom notes that there are very few sweat glands on the ankle, allowing prints to survive longer. A flashback shows someone trying to close the door to the press box, hitting Alison's leg, and moving the leg to allow the door to close.

Meanwhile, Catherine and Warrick are in the lab discussing an ongoing case. In the DNA lab, Catherine opens the fumer and puts a bagged container of green liquid inside next to the burn plate. She closes the fume hood, and she and Warrick walk away. They continue to discuss their case, which indirectly leads to them talking about Lindsey.

Nick and Sara find the rental car Alison was driving in the parking lot adjacent to the football field. She had checked it out three days prior and the contract was for a week. Nick finds a ripped up pair of panties in the back seat and semen stains on the seat itself. In the front seat, Sara finds an opened blister pack and some kind of ceramic material on the floor on the passenger's side. Sara guesses that Alison was carjacked, raped, and murdered, with her body being dumped in the press box. Nick wonders why the killer would take Alison all the way up the bleachers to a room with only one way out.

In autopsy, Doc Robbins tells Grissom the cause of death is asphyxiation due to strangulation. Grissom sees that there are fingertip bruises and fingerprint scratches around the neck, but no ligature marks. Bruising patterns indicate that the killer only used one hand (their right hand) to strangle Alison. Grissom sees that the bruising around Alison's body is consistent with rape; however, Doc Robbins tells him that tests show that she engaged in rough sex, not rape.

Brass tells nick that Alison worked as a waitress at a coffee shop outside Omaha, Nebraska and had requested this specific week off over a month before. She has no immediate family. They locate Alison's motel room and find it weird that a single woman would take a vacation to Las Vegas alone. Nick finds a tape recorder in Alison's luggage and finds this odd, as well.

David Hodges finds Grissom and tells him that the blister pack tested positive for methadone and that the ceramic chip Sara found is actually acrylic with a quartz resin composite used primarily in cheap dental crowns. Meanwhile, Jacqui Franco tells Grissom that AGIS has trouble with partial prints. She's able to narrow down the search field down to nine possible matches, but she will have to manually compare each print to the one they found. Greg interrupts with big news—the semen found inside Alison came back to Jason Kent, who was famous in 1987 for being "The Circle Killer."

It just so happens that Jason has only been out of jail for six weeks. Grissom, Brass and some police officers pay Jason a visit in his apartment. Brass brings up the rape and murder of a girl that Jason served 15 years in prison for. He then informs Jason that he's under arrest for Alison's murder at his old high school. Grissom notices a cut on Jason's lip and the fact that he recently clipped his nails. He goes into the bathroom and finds a piece of skin still in the nail clippers.

Back at the lab, Grissom asks Greg about the nail clippers, to which Greg replies that he hasn't processed them yet since he already identified the semen on the victim. Grissom tells him that he needs them processed in order for them to place Jason at the crime scene—killer, victim, location. As Grissom makes his way through the lab receiving updates on the case, Sara follows him, intent on getting one-on-one time with him. Her attempts are unsuccessful, as Grissom is a popular person. As she walks by Greg's lab, there's an explosion that sends glass everywhere and knocks her and Greg to the ground.

Greg is wheeled out on a stretcher with Grissom by his side. Outside, several lab personnel are being tended to by paramedics. Greg is put into the ambulance while everyone looks on. Grissom notices a despondent Sara sitting on the curb with some scratches on her face. He notices a deep cut on her hand. Somewhat dazed, she refuses to get checked out and wants to get to work helping clean up, but Grissom has a paramedic take her away to get stitched up.

Grissom gets a visit from Associate Director Robert Carvallo, whose first question is "What'd you do to my lab?" He's much more concerned about compromised evidence and cases rather than any personnel that were injured. Grissom reassures him that they have all data backed up on computers; at most, they've lost an hour or two of data. Associate Director Carvallo wants to know how the accident happened and who to place blame on (in Grissom's words). Grissom tells him that he's working a murder case and he will put Catherine in charge of the investigation.

In Interrogation, Brass is trying to question Jason, but his lawyer is doing all the talking. Brass brings up the fact that not only was Jason's semen found in Alison, but that he's in a methadone program. This puts Jason in Alison's car. When the lawyer says that there are thousands of methadone users in the city, Brass wonders how many of them have chipped dental crowns. As the lawyer tries to brush this question aside, Jason removes his false teeth and plops them down on the table. He says he had his teeth broken three weeks into his prison sentence. Brass notices that one of the teeth has a chip in it.

In the A/V lab, Archie goes over the tapes that were found in Alison's luggage in the motel room. He tells Nick that there are about nine hours of recordings. To their surprise, it seems that Alison was in love with Jason, even meeting him on the school football field to relive his days as a quarterback. Nick believes Alison was a murder groupie. In Alison's last recording, she's in the car outside of an apartment waiting for Jason. He gets in the car, spits out a tooth, and tells Alison to drive. When she brings up the name Jesus Cardenas, Jason gets angry and tells her to shut the recorder off. They run the name Jesus Cardenas through the NCIC and find that he's an inmate at the Western Nevada Correctional Facility, the same place Jason served his prison term.

Catherine and Warrick visit Greg in the hospital to see what he can remember about the explosion and the moments leading up to it. He recalls that he was mixing solvents and noticed the smell of burning plastic. However, he doesn't remember anything after that.

Nick looks over the approved visitors list from the prison and finds that Alison visited both Jason and Jesus multiple times—she had visited Jason 13 times in the last year and a half, and visited Jesus in her last two visits, as well. In the A/V lab, Archie has the security footage from the prison's visitation room queued up. All of Alison's meetings with Jason had gone the same way, with Jason going back to his cell at the end. However, the last two times, she stayed behind. She's seen getting up and leaving the room with Jesus. When the video is enhanced, the two are seen having sex behind the wall.

Catherine and Warrick process the damaged DNA lab. They spiral around the lab placing evidence markers as they go. Catherine snaps a picture of an evidence bag with Jason Kent's name on it. Inside the bag are the nail clippers taken from his apartment; remarkably, the nail clippers don't appear to be damaged from the explosion. They find that the explosion radiated from a table in the middle of the room. Since there was no cratering, there was no high explosive. It seems they're looking for a combustible liquid. Catherine picks a burner up off of the ground and notes that the hot plate was set on high and put under the fume hood. Warrick snaps a picture and picks up what looks to be a melted developer pan. They figure that the presence of combustible chemicals combined with a heat source could cause the damage they see in front of them.

A still lethargic Sara is seen in the station locker room looking at her CSI badge. She perks up when Nick passes by. When he asks her if she's back to work, she enthusiastically says she is. When Nick leaves, she goes back to being despondent. As she walks outside to meet Nick, she passes the DNA lab and relives the explosion.

Nick and Sara visit the prison to speak to Jesus. He says he knows Alison well, and quickly states that he has an alibi when told that she was murdered. Nick brings up Jason Kent's name and Jesus says that Jason had a lot of anger, adding that Jason didn't know how things worked in prison. He left prison owing a debt to Jesus, but never paid it back. A man like that, Jesus says, undermines the whole system.

Back at the station, Nick tells Grissom and Sara that Jason had spent time in solitary confinement on two separate occasions after being caught with heroin. The lab had run tests and found that it was black tar heroin that contained red and blue linen fibers. They surmise that Jesus provided Jason with the heroin and, in order to pay back his debt, he offered up Alison to Jesus. Alison willingly allowed herself to be used in the trade of "goods for services."

Catherine and Warrick question David Hodges, who admits to handling contaminated filter papers the day of the explosion. This process required him to do a solvent extraction, but he's insistent that he cleaned the developer pan. He deflects blame when confronted with the fact that the hot plate was left on, saying that it gets turned on by accident all the time. When Catherine tells Hodges that their report will reflect that a heat source was left on under the fume hood, he gets defensive and accuses them of trying to get rid of him because they're jealous of how much Grissom depends on him. He claims that he'll lawyer up before that happens.

In the print lab, Jacqui Franco tells Grissom that the print found on Alison's ankle only has one point of commonality with Jason Kent's print, meaning that it isn't Jason's print. However, the print comes back to Miguel Durado, a member of the A Las Culebras gang. Grissom notes that, based on the snake tattoo on his neck, Jesus Cardenas is also a member of A Las Culebras. He wonders if Miguel is the one who was getting the heroin into the prison. Jacqui asks how Miguel's prints ended up at the crime scene and Grissom theorizes that Miguel was collecting Jason's debt. A flashback shows Miguel entering the press box while Alison and Jason were making out. Miguel punched Jason, strangled and killed Alison, and told Jason that he's still in debt to Jesus.

In the evidence room, Catherine is charting every piece of evidence from the lab explosion. She comes to the conclusion that Hodges' developer pan was not the epicenter of the explosion. As she continues to come across baggies containing green glass, she realizes that the liquid she put in the fume hood was the epicenter. Catherine is responsible for the explosion.

Sara, Brass and two uniformed officers visit Miguel Durado's apartment and break down the door. As the apartment is cleared, breaking glass is heard and Sara breaks down the bathroom door. Miguel is inside. After Miguel is handcuffed, Brass orders Sara to holster her weapon. He then berates her for clearing the room, as that's the job of the police.

Grissom is in his office going over the photos of Alison's body when he gets a call telling him that Associate Director Carvallo is ready to see him. With Grissom sitting next to her, Catherine tells the assistant director that she and Warrick had investigated a case where a man had collapsed. They had suspected poison, but hadn't identified the liquid. She placed the liquid next to a hot plate that she didn't know was on, and this caused the explosion. Grissom comes to her defense, but Catherine assumes responsibility. When asked why she didn't follow procedure, she tells the assistant director that she spends most of her time in the lab, very little time sleeping, and trying to spend the rest with her daughter. Catherine is suspended without pay for five days; she gets up and leaves the room after being informed of this. Associate Director Carvallo then speaks to Grissom, but turns his face as he does so. As Grissom's hearing loss comes into play, he tells the assistant director that if he has something to say, then he should say it to his face. The assistant director tells him that his responsibility is to protect the lab, not its people. Grissom replies that without the people, there is no lab.

Miguel Durado is handcuffed in the middle of his apartment while Nick helps Sara gather evidence. He tells Sara that he heard about her "incident" and asks her if she's ever had a gun drawn on her; she replies that she hasn't. As she goes through Miguel's drawers, she finds some dollar bills with George Washington's portrait cut out of them. She recalls the red and blue fibers found in the heroin and thinks that she knows where they came from. A flashback shows Miguel removing the portrait, putting black tar heroin on it, and gluing it to another dollar bill.

Nick and Sara confront Miguel over the dollar bills, but he claims he doesn't know what they're talking about. Nick notices a cut on Miguel's forehead and says that it looks like a bite mark. To Miguel's surprise, Brass tells him he's looking at murder. Sara tells him he has Jason Kent's teeth marks on his forehead, and a flashback shows him headbutting Jason. When told his fingerprints are on Alison's body, Miguel pins the murder on Jason. He then admits to being at the crime scene and confronting Jason, telling him he had one day to pay Jesus the money he owed him. However, he claims that's all he did.

In interrogation, Jason's lawyer dismisses Miguel's testimony, claiming that anything a gangbanger says doesn't carry much weight. Brass, however, has pieced together that Miguel brought the heroin to the prison, gave it to Jesus, and traded it to Jason in exchange for Alison. Grissom tells Jason that they figured out that he had sex with Alison in his car to "get her in the mood." He then took Alison to the press box to meet with Miguel in order to help repay his debt. A flashback shows her refusing to have sex with Miguel in order to help out Jason. Out of frustration, Jason strangled her to death. Miguel tried to leave the press box, but the door hit Alison's leg. He moved the body out of the way and told Jason that he's going back to prison.

Jason's lawyer says that they have no evidence that places her client at the crime scene. Grissom has Jason place his right hand on a piece of paper and he traces it. When the lawyer says that this is harassment, Brass tells her that she's very protective. He then brings up that she has been paying Jason's rent. Grissom holds up an outline of Miguel's hand and notes that it has a span of 19 centimeters; however, the hand that strangled Alison has a span of 22 centimeters. Grissom measures the outline of Jason's hand and sees that its span is 22 centimeters, placing Jason's hand around Alison's neck. Jason is arrested for murder. When Brass asks Grissom whether he's going to go to the district attorney with a hand tracing, Grissom says that that's their only evidence—all other evidence blew up in the explosion. They conclude that with the hand tracing as the only evidence, Jason is going to walk.

Catherine visits Greg in the hospital and tells him that the explosion was her fault. In his office, Grissom is going through his rolodex and pulls a business card for an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctor; his hearing loss is getting worse. Sara interrupts and asks him out to dinner. When Grissom refuses and says that he "doesn't know what this is," Sara tells him that by the time he figures it out, it might be too late.


Main Cast[]

Guest Cast[]

Major Events[]

  • The DNA Lab is destroyed in an explosion that leaves Sara and Greg injured. It's later revealed that Catherine was the one responsible for causing the explosion in the first place.
  • As a result of causing the explosion and unknowingly endangering human life while also reminding her that DNA evidence in 13 cases has been ether tainted or destroyed, Director Carvallo suspends Catherine for five unpaid days.
  • Sara invites Grissom to dinner. He declines, saying he's unsure what to do about "this." She tells him, "By the time you figure it out, you really could be too late." 


Director Robert Carvallo: It's not your job to protect your people; it's to protect the integrity of this lab.
Grissom: Without the people, there is no lab.


  • Like Her by Mandalay
  • There, There by Radiohead


  • When Grissom sees Sara after the lab explosion, he calls her "honey".
  • After the lab explosion, Director Robert Carvallo speaks with Grissom and is concerned about lost evidence. He brings up the "double murder movie star case last year," referencing the episode The Accused is Entitled from earlier in the season.


  • Grissom's use of "honey" with Sara was ad-libbed by William Petersen. He defended his insertion of the term of endearment, saying "...that's exactly what would happen. He's afraid for her, he's afraid for everybody...But it is specifically for Sara. He knows the stress she's been under with him. With her shock, she doesn't even know until later on that he called her honey. He doesn't know that he called her honey. Only the audience knows."[1]
  • Luis Antonio Ramos, who played Jesus Cardenas, also appears in the season 7 episode Ending Happy as Lorenzo 'Happy' Morales.
  • Guest star Danielle Panabaker is best known for her roles in The Flash, Sky High, Friday the 13th, and Empire Falls.
  • Raymond Cruz played Miguel Durado in the episode. He also appeared in the season 8 episode A Thousand Days On Earth, playing Donald Balboa. Aside from also appearing in episodes of CSI: Miami and CSI: NY, Raymond is most recognizable for his role as Tuco Salamanca in the AMC show Breaking Bad.


  1. Flaherty, M. & Marrinan, C. (2004). CSI: Crime scene investigation companion. New York, NY: Pocket Books.

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