The family and friends of the Washington state man found dead on a Burbank off-ramp this week remembered him as a fun-loving sports fanatic.
The man, Lee Clifford Morris of Richland, Wash., was a 26-year veteran pilot for the airline. His body was discovered along the southbound Scott Road off-ramp Tuesday evening by a passerby.
Morris landed at Bob Hope Airport on Monday and was scheduled to fly out at 7 a.m. Tuesday, but when he didn't report to work, airline officials contacted the hotel where he was staying.
Due to the location of the body, authorities had said the death appeared suspicious. But there did not appear to be any external injuries and his wallet was still at the scene, police said.
Alaska Airlines described Morris as a “well-respected” pilot who was required to undergo physical exams twice a year. A spokesman said that as far as the airline was concerned, Morris was “in good health.”
It could be weeks before a final determination is made as the Los Angeles County coroner’s office completes a number of other tests, including neuropathology and toxicology exams, said Assistant Chief Ed Winter.
“If we don’t find anything obvious, those could take weeks,” he said. “We are still doing an autopsy; it’s premature for us to give any ruling on cause of death."
A family member who spoke to the Tri-City Herald, the newspaper that covers Richland as well as nearby Kennewick and Pasco, said she was stunned by the sudden death.
Though Morris was based out of Seattle, he had lived with his longtime fiancee Eileen Hively in Richland for about 10 years.
And while he had no children, Morris embraced Hively’s family as his own, said Miller.
“He and Eileen’s grandchildren were his life. That and his friends meant everything to him,” she said.
Morris was born in Richland but grew up in Kennewick, graduating from Kamiakin High School and Washington State University.
He got hooked on flying after his mom, Catherine Morris, who still lives in Richland, bought him a flying lesson after he tried a parachute jump. He went on to graduate from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona and became a flight instructor in his hometown.
He was hired as a pilot for Horizon Air in 1986 and went to work for Alaska Airlines four years later as a Boeing 727 flight engineer.
He began flying MD-80s in 1992 and advanced to captain in 2001. Seven years later, he became a captain on 737 flights.
Miller said her brother was a die-hard WSU Cougar fan, but loved many sports, including water and snow skiing and golf.
She said he often spent spring breaks attending Mariners baseball training camps in Arizona with family and friends.
“He was fun-loving and it was very contagious,” said Miller.
Morris’ family plans a celebration of his life at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick.
-- Times Community News & Tri-City Herald