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Mysterious death of Alaska Airlines pilot could take weeks to solve

October 5, 2012 |  7:22 am

L.A. County coroner's officials said it would probably take several weeks to determine the cause of death for a 55-year-old Alaska Airlines pilot found dead along the 5 Freeway in Burbank.

Toxicology tests are being conducted on the pilot, Lee Clifford Morris of Richland, Wash., whose mysterious death stunned friends.

“If we don’t find anything obvious, those could take weeks,” coroner's Assistant Chief Ed Winter said of postmortem tests. “We are still doing an autopsy; it’s premature for us to give any ruling on cause of death."

Detectives were interviewing coworkers of Morris as they tried to determine how he died.

Officials said there were no obvious signs of injury -- no gunshot or stab wounds -- and no evidence that Morris had been struck by a car. Burbank Police Sgt. Darin Ryburn said Morris' wallet and identification were found with the body, indicating that robbery was probably not a motive.

A passerby spotted the body beside a fence at the Scott Road exit ramp about 6 p.m. Tuesday and called authorities, Ryburn said. Paramedics arrived and pronounced the man dead.

Morris was a Seattle-based pilot who worked for Horizon and Alaska Airlines for 26 years, said Paul McElroy, an Alaska Airlines spokesman.

All captains for the airline 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."

Morris flew from Seattle to Burbank at midmorning Monday and checked into a hotel, where he was supposed to stay the night before flying back to Seattle on Tuesday at 7 a.m., McElroy said. After he did not show up for the flight, McElroy said, airline officials contacted the hotel and local authorities.

McElroy described Morris as a "highly regarded and respected pilot" survived by family, including his fiancee and grandsons.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to Lee's fiancee and other loved ones," Gary Beck, Alaska Airlines vice president of flight operations, said in a statement. "He will be greatly missed by his fellow pilots and all employees at Alaska."

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-- Kate Mather and Alene Tchekmedyian, Times Community News

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