Morris was struck by a van chartered to transport late-night revelers by Telluride’s Home Safe Program. According to San Miguel County Coroner Emil Sante, Morris, known to many in the community as “Dancing Pat,” sustained fatal injuries after he was run over in front of the San Miguel County Courthouse just after 2 a.m. Morris was transported to the Telluride Medical Center, where he died, despite emergency responders’ efforts to save him. Chief Marshal James Kolar said Morris had visited “one or more” drinking establishments in Telluride earlier that evening, and was attempting to get a ride on Telluride’s free Home Safe van, which provides late-night weekend shuttle service from Telluride to Mountain Village, Brown Homestead, Eider Creek and Lawson Hill. According to a Telluride Marshal's Department press release, Morris had joined approximately 30 people in front of the San Miguel County Courthouse seeking transportation via one of the two waiting Home Safe vans. When the first 10-passenger Chevrolet van filled beyond capacity, several riders were asked to disembark; Morris, reportedly, was one of them. For “inexplicable reasons” Morris then “took a prone position in the street in front of the right passenger tire of the Home Safe van,” according to the Telluride Marshal’s Department press release.
“Witnesses to his actions thought it a prank, and failed to notify the driver of the man lying in front of the vehicle. Due to the position taken by Mr. Morris, the driver was unable to see him when he began to pull away from the curb.”
Upon feeling “a slight impact after driving forward several feet, and thinking he had struck a snow bank,” the driver stopped and backed up. By now, several bystanders were helping Morris, “who had been injured by the right front tire of the vehicle.”
Morris came to Colorado with a culinary background, having trained in Oklahoma and Texas and gone on to work in restaurants and hotels from Texas to Hawaii to Japan.
Deciding he’d had enough, he moved to Colorado in 1996. “I threw all my ties at my boss, and told him I was moving to Colorado to be a ski bum,” Morris told The Watch in 2007.
After a short stint at a restaurant in Vail, working with longtime friend Chad Scothorn, who today owns The Cosmopolitan restaurants in Telluride and Durango, Morris moved to the Western San Juans.
He soon met fellow telemarker Melissa Johnson, and the two began a relationship that led to the creation of Wildwood Farms, on Log Hill Mesa and, later, buying and operating the now-defunct Season’s Harvest Natural Food Market, in Ridgway.
Morris came from a big family in Oklahoma, the ninth of 10 kids, and it was his large family that helped build Johnson’s off-the-grid house up on Buster Boiler Draw, off Log Hill Mesa.
Johnson said the two had developed a relationship that allowed Morris to live in Telluride most of the winter, to ski and work, while she lived up on Log Hill Mesa, and that she said she would often visit him at Big Billie’s, where he lived, for weekend skiing.
“He’s a party guy,” Johnson said this week of Morris. “He lives it to the max.
“It was Saturday night; he’d finished work; he had a big paycheck in his pocket. There was a band playing in town….The coroner told me he had been to every bar in town.”
And so, at 2 a.m., when he was asked to disembark the Home Safe van, at its pickup point in front of the San Miguel County Courthouse, he laid down in front of the van, as a prank.
“But that is no excuse!” Johnson said. “Why didn’t anyone help him? Did he pass out, and was unable to get up himself? Why couldn’t someone have told the driver?
“He was such an unselfish man, himself,” she added. “One time, driving back to Telluride from Cortez we saw a car bounce off the rock wall, veer across the road and go into the river. We stopped and went back. There was a Native American woman crying out about her mother, her mother. Pat jumped in the freezing river trying to save the woman he thought was still in the car. That’s the person he was.”
Scothorn, who like Morris is a graduate of Oklahoma State University, said he and Morris remained close friends throughout college and their crisscrossing careers; when they worked together at Beano’s Cabin, in Vail, they would ski to work together. Later, when Scothorn decided to open Cosmopolitan in Telluride, Morris helped him run the restaurant for almost five years.
“When he came to help me at the Cosmo, he fell in love with this area,” Scothorn said. “He was just a great guy, and I always enjoyed working with him.”
Morris worked at a number of restaurants in Telluride, including The Peaks; his current job was grill chef at Allred’s. Not only did Morris bring his best work to the kitchen, Scothorn said; his presence brought out the best of everyone else in the workplace, as well.
“He was a real motivational guy in the kitchen,” he said. “He was never tired. He was never down. He was the backbone of the engine of the kitchen. He had an incredible sense of humor.”
Morris is survived by Johnson; by his mother, Francis Morris; by his two children, Kate and Patrick, and three grandchildren. Crippin Funeral Home in Montrose is handling funeral arrangements.
Telluride Express, which contracted the Home Safe Program with the Town of Telluride, announced after decided Morris’s death that it can no longer continue to service the agreement with the town, and the program has been suspended.
– Additional reporting by Peter Shelton