Family, friends mourn pilot found dead in California

By the Tri-City HeraldOctober 5, 2012 

Lee Morris traveled for a living and for fun but he always called the Tri-Cities home.

Even after 26 years as an airline pilot, Morris looked forward to returning to his fiancee, family and friends in Richland.

Relatives and friends remained stunned Thursday over the news of the 55-year-old's death along a Southern California freeway off-ramp near Burbank, Calif.

Los Angeles County officials initially called Morris' death suspicious because of where he was found.

But on Thursday, coroner's officials said there's nothing obvious to show why he died, according to a story by the Burbank Leader newspaper.

It could be awhile before the Los Angeles County coroner's office completes other tests, Assistant Chief Ed Winter told the Burbank Leader.

"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."

"It would help to have some of those answers," his sister, Karen Miller of Richland, told the Herald.

Morris landed Monday at the Burbank airport and was scheduled to fly out at 7 a.m. Tuesday, but when he didn't report to work, Alaska Airline officials called the hotel and police, said the Burbank paper.

Alaska Airlines described Morris as a "well-respected" pilot who was considered "in good health."

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 the Tri-Cities.

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 camp 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.

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