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Torch Song
Torchsong.jpg
Season 14
Number 3
Writer Tom Mularz,
Elizabeth Devine
Director Brad Tanenbaum
Original Airdate October 9, 2013
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Previous Episode: Take the Money and Run
Next Episode: Last Supper

Torch Song is the third episode in season fourteen of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

Synopsis

The CSI team investigates a fire at a music venue that leaves four people dead, including two band members.

Plot

Victims: Kevin Ellis (deceased), Timo Padia (deceased), Rene Nylen (deceased), Kurt Harper (deceased)

On the case: entire team

During a concert at the Lock Jaw Club, a fire breaks out and every patron frantically tries to escape. In the process, one young man is stomped to death by the panicked mob, while three other people die inside.

While Finn and Nick set off to investigate the fire, Morgan and Sara focus on the victims. One victim, Kevin Ellis, didn't suffer burns from the fire; however, he has multiple blunt force trauma to his body. Sara examines another victim close by; Timo Padia's body also shows a lack of burns, but he has a broken nose. Petechiae in his eyes points to him being asphyxiated, but it doesn't seem that he was trampled by the crowd. The blood stains on Timo's shirt show that he was standing upright when his nose was broken, so it's possible he was crushed to death by the panicked mob heading for the exits.

Finn and Nick search for the fire's point of origin but are thrown off by the melted soundproof foam in the club. Nick explains that the lowest point of damage should indicate the fire's point of origin; however, the foam caught fire and rained down everywhere, creating several low points. He guesses the foam ignited quickly which led to the stampede. Elsewhere, Morgan and Sara process what's left of the stage, as well as the two musicians who died in the fire. David Phillips sees that one of the victims died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Firefighters broke down a nearby door; however, the smoke may have been so thick and the club so dark that nobody could see where the exit was.

Shreds of paper are found in the treads of one of the victims' boots, and they match a poster that was affixed next to one of the exit doors - the victim tried to kick the door open. Greg speaks with club owner Stu Kirchoff and berates him for the club's many violations, including a lack of sprinklers and empty fire extinguishers. Even the walls were covered with polyurethane foam. Stu denies locking the back exit door and is only able to remember what the band on stage looked like, not their names. Greg shows Stu some recent photos from the club and notes the presence of a framed guitar hanging above the bar. The guitar is now curiously missing, but Stu admits to pawning it in order to help keep the club open. He laments that because he did so, several people are now dead.

In the morgue, Doc Robbins lays out the victims' causes of death for Morgan. Kevin Ellis died from an intracerebral hemorrage due to multiple blunt force trauma; someone stepped on him with steel-toed boots. The John Doe musician died from a combination of carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide, which was caused by the polyurethane foam on the walls. Timo Padia, however, is a different story. It's determined that he was choked to death with a chain, and he was murdered before the fire, as there was no soot in his lungs. Some granular trace was also found in his trachea. David Phillips interrupts and leads Morgan and the doc to the Jane Doe musician. They see that her entire body is covered in racist tattoos.

Sara searches the tattoo database and eventually identifies the Jane Doe musician as Rene Nylen, the bassist for a hatecore band called White Rising. "Hatecore" is described as being music for white supremacists, and Greg and Sara wonder why Timo, a young Hispanic kid, was attending such a performance. It's possible his presence at the concert is what got him killed.

A witness reportedly saw Timo enter the club with an unidentified blonde girl; the two were drunk and acting flirty until Timo heard the music and sobered up. Trace from Timo's throat is identified as crushed limestone, and Morgan and Sara search the club to find the source. They happen upon the storeroom, which was untouched by the fire. There, they find blood drops on the floor and parallel blood marks nearby. Morgan compares the marks with the scratches on Timo's boots and concludes that he was murdered in the storeroom and dragged out onto the dance floor. The killer likely set the fire to cover up the murder.

Finn and Nick examine the back door and discover that it wasn't locked. There are fresh paint scrapings embedded on the outside of the door, indicating that something was blocking it. With help from fire investigator Ryan Miller, they find an incendiary device under the rubble; someone affixed a candle to a piece of cardboard.

The lead singer for White Rising is identified as Kurt Harper, and Brass tells Russell that this isn't the first time the band left a body behind. Three months ago, the band played at the club and some of the amped-up concertgoers beat an Asian-American kid named Lee Wong, Jr. into a coma. Kurt's dental records confirm that he's the John Doe in the morgue; however, the band's drummer is still in the wind.

The red paint scrapings from the door match a stock color used by Pontiac, but Nick doesn't recall seeing a red Pontiac at the scene when they arrived. Arson is confirmed when the GCMS finds traces of gasoline on the incendiary device. Hodges goes one step further and runs the barcode found on the underside of the cardboard. The barcode traces back to a box of auto parts delivered to a local mechanic named Lee Wong - the father of the kid beaten into a coma at the first concert. It seems that someone may be seeking revenge on his behalf.

Russell questions Nora Wong, sister to the coma-ridden Lee. She runs her father's auto shop now that he has passed away, which means she can get her hands on any car she wants. However, Nora is adamant that she only drives a Jeep and is incensed when accused of starting the fire at the club. She only says that her and her friends lit sky lanterns a few days after the attack on her brother and guesses some of them may have landed on the roof.

Nora's story appears to be truthful, as Finn and Nick deduce that the sky latern fell through the roof when it collapsed during the fire. The fire's point of origin is still unknown, but Nick mentions a new technique called "arc mapping," which involves comparing the locations of the short-circuited bare wires against the building's circuitry. Fire investigator Ryan Miller arrives and disagrees with Nick's decision to try arc mapping; however, Finn and Nick are able to deduce that the fire started in a specific corner of the club and start digging through the rubble to find the culprit.

Henry is able to locate the missing red Pontiac on a traffic camera; it's seen driving away from the club around the time of the fire. The paint on the side of the car looks to be charred from the heat. Though a driver can't be seen, it's found that the car is registered to a Jeremy Douglass. Under interrogation, Jeremy claims that he hasn't seen his car for over 24 hours and that he wasn't the one driving it in the photo. Greg and Sara inform him that his car was parked in an alley, blocking the club's exit door and resulting in the deaths of four people. Jeremy admits that a fearsome friend named Caleb Voight texted him to leave the car in the alley with the keys inside. Caleb apparently breaks rocks for a living, which could explain how limestone ended up in Timo's trachea - it got there when Caleb was choking him to death. Jeremy is informed that he provided the getaway car for a murderer and indirectly murdered three others.

Finn and Nick sift through the rubble at the club and find a makeshift incendiary device of cigarettes and matches rubber-banded together. Jeremy is given a hidden microphone and told to confront Caleb in an effort to connect him to the fire, either by the limestone debris, the chain used to choke Timo, or the cigarettes and matches used in the incendiary device. Caleb sees right through the ruse, ushers Jeremy inside his house, and throws acid in his face. When the police break down the doors, Caleb runs outside, but he's eventually stopped in his tracks by a knockout punch from Brass. As Caleb is ushered away in handcuffs, Brass finds a chain on the ground.

There are chunks of Timo's skin caught in the chain, so the murder weapon has been found. Under interrogation, Caleb admits to killing Timo because he entered the club and antagonized the crowd of racist concertgoers. However, he claims that he didn't start the fire, but he saw who did. He identifies the arsonist as someone wearing a black t-shirt with a death's-head logo on it. Brass realizes that one of the burn victims in the hospital was wearing the same shirt.

The victim's fingerprints identify him as Ian Baxton. He has multiple priors for arson and is still on probation for torching a warehouse. When his case history is pulled up, Morgan and Nick see that Ian uses the same signature at every scene - cigarettes rubber-banded together with matches. Nick also sees that Ryan Miller investigated the other cases. Finn and Nick pay Ryan a visit and accuse him of doing his job poorly. Ryan claims that he investigated Ian, but concluded that he was working at the time of the fire. Before apologizing for his shortsightedness, he adds that Ian usually only torches unoccupied buildings and only works for hire.

A paper bag containing $7,500 is found under Ian's mattress - and the fingerprints on the bag match club owner Stu Kirchoff. The $7,500 just happens to be the same amount of money Stu got for pawning off his guitar. Under interrogation, he admits to disliking the club's clientele, which consisted of hate-filled teenagers. He set fire to the club in order to get the insurance money, but tells Russell that he underestimated how fast the fire would spread, as he had assumed everyone would be able to get out safely. Stu is arrested for his involvement in the three deaths.

Cast

Main Cast

Guest Cast

  • Marc Vann as Conrad Ecklie
  • Larry Mitchell as Officer Mitchell
  • Sylva Kelegian as Kim Ellis
  • Joshua Alba as Timo Padia
  • John Ratzenberger as Stu Kirchoff
  • Mark Deklin as Ryan Miller
  • Irene Keng as Nora Wong
  • Joe Adler as Jeremy Douglass
  • Michael Filipowich as Caleb Voight
  • Bay Dariz as Kurt Harper
  • Kwinci Griffith as Rene Nylen
  • Justin Gant as Ian Baxton (credited as stunt performer)

Music

  • Radioactive by Imagine Dragons

Trivia

  • The episode is based on The Station nightclub fire, down to the toxic insulation foam suffocating the victims.
  • Nick mentions Finn's ability to solve a knife fight from a single drop of blood. This is in reference to the season 12 episode Seeing Red (LV), which was Finn's first appearance in the series.
  • John Ratzenberger played club owner Stu Kirchoff. He's an accomplished actor known most for his role in the television show Cheers as well as his many appearances as a voice actor in Pixar films.

See Also

CSI:Las Vegas Season 14
The Devil and D.B. RussellTake the Money and RunTorch SongLast SupperFrame by FramePassed PawnsUnder a CloudHelplessCheck In and Check OutGirls Gone WildLost ReindeerKeep Calm and Carry OnBoston BrakesDe Los MuertosLove for SaleKiller MovesLong Road HomeUninvitedThe FallenConsumedKittyDead In His Tracks


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