Body of Richland pilot found in California


BURBANK, Calif. -- The body of an Alaska Airlines pilot from Richland was found on a Southern California freeway off-ramp.

Alaska Airlines released a statement Wednesday saying the company was "deeply saddened" by the death of Lee Clifford Morris, 55, who was found dead Tuesday along an off-ramp of Interstate 5 in Burbank.

Morris was a 26-year, "highly respected" pilot for the airline, said Gary Beck, vice president of flight operations for Alaska, in the statement.

Morris landed at Bob Hope Airport on Monday and was scheduled to fly out at 7 a.m. Tuesday, but didn't report to work, said Alaska Airlines spokesman Paul McElroy.

"That's very unusual," he said. "That's why we immediately contacted the hotel, then later, had to reach out to law enforcement."

Morris' body was discovered later that evening along an off-ramp of the southbound Interstate 5.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of Capt. Morris," Beck said. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to Lee's fianc and other loved ones. He will be greatly missed by fellow pilots and all employees of Alaska."

Morris was pronounced dead at the scene after paramedics responded at 5:55 p.m. He had been staying at a hotel near the airport, police said.

There were no obvious signs of injury -- no gunshot or stab wounds, and no evidence Morris had been struck by a car. His wallet and identification also were with him, indicating robbery probably was not a motive, according to police.

"But due to the location, we're treating it as a suspicious death," said Burbank police Sgt. Darin Ryburn.

All Alaska Airline captains undergo a physical exam twice a year, McElroy said.

"They're not allowed to fly if they don't pass that medical," he said. "As far as we know he was in good health. Again, we just don't know what the cause of death was and aren't speculating."

Burbank police are in the process of interviewing Morris' crew members and co-workers.

Meanwhile, an autopsy by Los Angeles County coroner's officials was likely to be completed today, Ryburn said.

Morris had been engaged to be married at the time of this death.

"They're pretty shaken, as you can imagine," McElroy said of his family.

-- Los Angeles Times staff writers Kate Mather and Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.

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