US Commerce Secretary John Bryson is taking a medical leave of absence to undergo tests after suffering a seizure connected to two traffic accidents in the Los Angeles area over the weekend.
Bryson informed US President Barack Obama on Monday of his decision “so that I can focus all of my attention on resolving the health issues that arose over the weekend,” according to a statement released by the department. Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank will serve as acting commerce secretary in Bryson’s absence.
The 68-year-old former utility executive struck a car which was stopped for a train twice on Saturday afternoon and then hit another vehicle a few minutes later in a nearby community. He was found unconscious in his car and government officials said on Monday he had had a seizure.
Bryson had not suffered a seizure previously, according to a department official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the secretary’s medical history, adding that Bryson had a “limited recall of the events.”
Authorities said Bryson was driving alone in a Lexus in San Gabriel, a community of about 40,000 northeast of Los Angeles, when he struck the rear of a vehicle that had stopped for a passing train. He spoke briefly with the three occupants and then hit their car again as he departed, investigators said. They followed him while calling police.
Bryson was cited for felony hit-and-run, although he has not been charged. The secretary then struck a second car in the nearby city of Rosemead, where he was found unconscious in his car, authorities said.
Officials said Bryson was not on government business, was driving a personal car and did not have a security detail at the time.
He took a Breathalyzer test that did not detect any alcohol, but investigators were awaiting the results from a blood test, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Captain Mike Parker said.
Commerce officials said Bryson was given medication to treat the seizure. Paramedics treated two people in the first collision for pain, but a couple involved in the second crash declined medical aid. The case was being reviewed by sheriff’s investigators and will probably be submitted to prosecutors in the coming days.
Bryson was sworn in to lead the Commerce Department in October after easily overcoming conservatives’ objections that his pro-environmental views made him unsuited for the job.
As secretary, Bryson is a member of the president’s economic team and has advised on energy issues. He is the former head of Edison International, the holding company that owns Southern California Edison, and has served on boards of major corporations, including aviation firm Boeing and entertainment giant Walt Disney.
Bryson’s leave represented the latest change at the Commerce Department, which includes agencies as diverse as the Census Bureau and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Obama’s first pick to run the department was former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who withdrew from consideration because of a federal investigation into how his political donors won contracts in his state. Obama then nominated New Hampshire Republican Senator Judd Gregg, but he also withdrew his name, saying he realized he had “irresolvable conflicts” with the president’s economic policies.
The president finally found success with Gary Locke, the former Washington state governor. Locke served as commerce secretary until last year, when Obama asked him to move to China to become the US ambassador. Obama then tapped Bryson to fill the post.