"Not an exact science"; Changes in arson investigation since Pioneer Hotel blaze
CREATED Apr 1, 2013
Reporter: Maggie Vespa
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Dozens upon dozens of investigators, both police and fire, had a hand in putting Louis Taylor behind bars in connection with Pioneer Hotel fire.
Within hours of that first spark, investigators labeled this fire an arson and police, operating on that determination, had hauled in their suspect.
For one detective, who spent hours in that building, the science behind that all-consuming fire all but consumed him.
David Smith was a rookie juvenile detective when he took on the tail end of the Louis Taylor interrogation operating on a theory fed to him by tucson fire.
"I didn't know why, and quite frankly at that point, if I was told why, I probably wouldn't have understood it anyway," he said.
But in the weeks, months and years that followed, Smith's fascination with fire science flared.
"I spent many, many hours at the Pioneer Hotel becoming acquainted with it," he said.
All those hours led to a career as an arson and bomb squad detective.
It wasn't until the early 90's before advances in the field came pouring in, disproving many old investigative tactics, such as the spawling or chipping of concrete.
"We were told that that was indicative of gasoline poured there," said Smith.
He says the latest conclusion is very different.
"It's blown up, if you will; it's pitted and pocked as a result of the moisture in the concrete turning to steam."
The type of tactics used, says Smith, when combing through the Pioneer's ashes.
Decades later, as a private fire investigator, he thinks about that blaze frequently.
"I do a lot of cases free attempting to rectify some of situations that are still occurring."
Hoping to prevent another hasty conviction in what he says will never be an exact science.
With all this new information, you might think taylor has a case against the county.
I spoke with his lawyer Mike Piccarreta, who says technically Taylor could sue, but it would be an incredibly hard case to win.
Attorneys would almost have to prove investigators intentionally hid or altered evidence to get a conviction.