Determining what caused the death of a 55-year-old Alaska Airlines pilot whose body was found along the Golden State (5) Freeway in Burbank on Tuesday probably will take several weeks, according to L.A. County coroner's officials.
Toxicology tests are being conducted on the remains of 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 Morris' co-workers 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 his 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.
The Seattle-based Morris had 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.” He is survived by family, including his fiancee and grandsons.
Though Morris was based out of Seattle, he had lived with his longtime fiancee Eileen Hively in Richland for about 10 years.
Morris 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.
“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.”
Kate Mather is a Los Angeles Times staff writer.