A cross-state investigation always complicates matters.
After handling a case rescuing some missing Mexican girls, the SVU team realized that what appeared to be a simple assault was part of a wider-range series of crimes.
But that led to yet another hidden assault case, making Eighteen Wheels a Predator more complex than the standard Law & Order: Special Victims Unit affair.
A stormy night leads to a dark attack
In a bar, Kayla Stuart (Supriya Ganesh) was drowning her sorrows over a breakup while the bartender (Ryan Coyle) warned a man about hitting on his sister (Emma Lenderman). Kayla and the bartender briefly made out, but she turned him down, which he didn’t take well.
Kayla walked through a stormy park where someone hit her over the head and dragged her away. The next morning, the cops found the half-dead woman nearly drowned thanks to the storm.
McGrath warned Benson of the press all over this as she sighed on the politics of the job making it worse.
Kayla was recovering from watching the news about her when Rollins came to see her. She never saw who attacked her as she shared being at the bar.
Fin and Rollins checked the bar to find the bartender, Dustin, and his sister Demmy opening up. Dustin’s attitude was immediately suspicious as Rollins frisked him to find some drugs, Dustin actually pulling the “these are my roommate’s pants” excuse.
Dustin had a history of abuse allegations from an ex-girlfriend, admitting to hitting on Kyala but nothing else. Demmy couldn’t believe her brother could do this, and Kayla was “teasing” him. However, she had to admit Dustin wasn’t home when she got back to their place and when he did return, his clothes were muddy.
The cops searched the apartment, finding Kayla’s wallet hidden under the bed. McGrath was happy about the fast arrest as it looked open and shut. But then, Benson got a phone call from someone who knew details of the case not released to the press and that he’d just done it again. “But she can’t talk right now.”
Hitting the road
The team wasn’t sure if this was a trick or not, as the cell call came from a small town in Kentucky. Chief Owen Berry (Petri Hawkins-Byrd) told them they’d found a victim by a truck stop attacked just like Kayla. With the state police busy on another case, Berry welcomed any help.
That left how Dustin got Kayla’s wallet with him, still denying following her. He finally confessed he was buying drugs and let slip meeting Kayla.
In Kentucky, Fin and Rollins met Berry, who talked of knowing the victim, Shay Landry (Sarah Elizabeth Jensen), since she was a kid, and this was a quiet town.
Shay led the police through the crime scene, still overcome by what happened. She shared that the local kids used it for fun, and some locals might know something.
Demmy was cagey about her whereabouts as Rollins called in to say that while they couldn’t identify the attacker, the same DNA was on over a dozen rape kits from fifteen states stretching back to 2001. The cops were rocked to realize a serial rapist had been at work for so long.
Before long, the SVU squad room was filled with cops from multiple states while Dustin was released. McGrath was eager for the headlines catching the guy but also affected by how long the guy had been operating.
They played the tape of the caller for Kayla, who remembered someone insisting on playing country music at the bar. Demmy pointed the man out on a video while another camera found him following Kayla and that he operated a truck. However, it was hard to narrow him down with thousands of trucker employees.
Benson realized they needed to focus on attempted rapes to find “the needle in the haystack.” They were contacted by Raelynn Cole (Anne Windsland), who had been attacked six years earlier. She had woken up before the man got a phone call which allowed her to escape.
She managed to identify the figure by his name, Wes, and he was the guy at the bar. He was Aaron “Wesley” Parker (Trevor Long), whose routes lined up with every assault.
Cashing in their chips
Benson and Fin went to Parker’s house in Pennsylvania, where his wife Winona (Andrus Nichols) had no idea what was happening. She related he was blowing off steam as usual at a local casino.
The pair headed over, where Benson put on an act of a gal wanting a good time to hit up Parker by the slot machines. He opened up on being in New York before Benson flashed her badge to arrest him.
McGrath, of course, was ecstatic at the good press of nabbing Parker and telling Carisi, “don’t drop the ball.” Carisi was worried about the issue of Dustin having Kayla’s wallet, which could mean reasonable doubt for Parker.
Rollins got a phone call on Demmy being beaten with her claiming it was her own fault. Demmy admitted she found Kayla in the park, worried Dustin had done something to her and took the wallet to frame him. The reason was Dustin had been abusing her since they were kids, and she wanted to be free.
Dustin was arrested for the attack while Parker tried to play off his confession. Fin and Rollins played on his ego to get Parker to admit he just “took what I wanted” and proud of how he got away with it for long. He gleefully confessed, already imagining a TV series about his crimes.
Dustin was brought into interrogation, yelling about Demmy turning on him, while his attorney was shocked to realize what he’d done. Carisi refused any deal as Dustin was going away for a long time.
McGrath was in his element telling the press about the arrest, with Benson throwing a special thanks to Fin and Rollins for their hard work.
It was a daunting case on several levels, but it worked out to help the SVU team bring two deadly predators to justice.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Season 23 returns with new episodes Thursday April 28 at 9/8c on NBC.