Commerce secretary to take medical leave
U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson was treated for a seizure after being involved in two separate traffic accidents in Los Angeles during the weekend.
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Seattle Times news services
WASHINGTON — U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson, who was treated for a seizure after being involved in two separate traffic accidents in Los Angeles over the weekend, will take a medical leave of absence from his job, the agency said.
Bryson told President Obama in a memo Monday that he would transfer his duties effective immediately to Deputy Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank.
"I am taking a medical leave of absence so that I can focus all of my attention on resolving the health issues that arose over the weekend," Bryson said in the memo, which was circulated with the agency statement.
Bryson, 68, was found unconscious at the wheel of his Lexus about 5:10 p.m. Saturday, after the second of the two collisions, police in Los Angeles said Monday. He suffered a seizure and was hospitalized overnight, said Jennifer Friedman, a Commerce Department spokeswoman.
"The President's thoughts are with Secretary Bryson and his family during this time," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday night.
A joint release by the San Gabriel Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said Bryson crashed into the rear of a car waiting for a train, stopped to talk to the three occupants, then hit the same car again as he departed. The three men followed Bryson as he drove into a neighboring city. He collided with another car about five minutes later.
The Cabinet secretary was the commencement speaker Thursday at Polytechnic School in Pasadena, a college-preparatory school that his four daughters attended.
Students and parents said Bryson, a polished public speaker, appeared to lose his place in his remarks. He mispronounced words without correcting himself. He repeated himself and rambled at times.
"It definitely seemed as though he lost his place at times — that he wasn't sure what he was saying," said Brad Olson, 18, a graduate.
Officials of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said Bryson had voluntarily taken a Breathalyzer test after the accidents and the test showed no alcohol use. They were awaiting the results of a blood test.
Bryson, who was traveling alone, was cited with the hit-and-run incidents but was taken to a hospital and not jailed.
The White House did not learn of the accident until Sunday evening, Carney said. Obama, he said, was informed of the accident Monday morning.
Even as reports of the accident were made public, one of the most prominent Republican political groups in the country pounced to suggest that Bryson was guilty of drunken driving.
"How does @CommerceSec have 3 car crashes in 5 minutes and alcohol NOT be involved? Skills," the group American Crossroads said in a tweet.
American Crossroads is a political-action committee founded by Karl Rove, the top political adviser to former President George W. Bush who now raises millions from private contributors to finance pro-Republican, anti-Democratic TV ads.
The tweet got lots of attention. American Crossroads apologized later Monday for the hasty accusation, about the same time the Commerce Department said Bryson had suffered a seizure.
The group subsequently deleted the post, saying, "Earlier Bryson tweet with hashtag skills attempted levity (before facts known) and failed miserably. We took it down and regret the tweet."
Bryson is the former head of Edison International, the holding company that owns Southern California Edison. Bryson has also served on boards of major corporations including Boeing and the Walt Disney Co. He helped oversee Edison's transformation into a leading wind and solar company.
Compiled from Bloomberg News, McClatchy Newspapers, Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press reports.