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Obama Commerce secretary takes medical leave

Jun. 12, 2012 - 02:17PM   |  
By DAVID JACKSON, USA TODAY   |   Comments

In a memorandum to his top aide, Commerce Secretary John Bryson said Monday night he is taking a leave of absence to deal with health issues stemming from a pair of car accidents in California on Saturday.

“I notified President Obama this evening that effective immediately 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 wrote to Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank, who will take over running the Commerce Department.

White House officials and California police are reviewing the Saturday incident in which Bryson suffered a seizure while driving, collided with two cars within five minutes, and was cited by local police for hit-and-run.

Bryson also wrote in the memo to Blank: “During the period of my illness, I will not perform the functions and duties of my office. Therefore, by operation of law, as my first assistant you will act in my stead for the duration of my absence.”

White House officials said Bryson notified Obama of his decision last night and told him he will undergo tests and evaluations.

“The president’s thoughts are with Secretary Bryson and his family during this time,” said Obama press secretary Jay Carney. “Secretary Bryson assured the White House that the Commerce Department staff will not miss a beat in their work helping America’s businesses compete.”

As we reported yesterday, the San Gabriel Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said officers cited Bryson for hit-and-run after causing two car accidents within minutes of one another in Southern California on Saturday.

Bryson, 68, nominated by Obama last year, was treated at a hospital for non-life threatening injuries after the crashes, police said.

Obama told an Iowa television station Monday that his team is still trying to learn all the facts of the accidents involving Bryson. “It sounds like it was health related in some way, but we are going to make sure that obviously he gets the best care and we will be able to make a determination from there,” Obama said.

The incident began Saturday at 5:05 p.m. on South San Gabriel Boulevard, said a joint statement from the San Gabriel Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department that described the incident as a “hit and run” collision.

“Secretary Bryson was allegedly traveling southbound in a Lexus on San Gabriel Boulevard and rear-ended a Buick occupied by three males that was stopped on the street awaiting a passing train,” said the police statement.

It added that “Bryson spoke with the males, then left the scene, hitting the same car again as he left the scene. The three males followed him in their car while calling San Gabriel Police officers via 911 and asking for assistance.”

Bryson then drove to the neighboring city of Rosemead, where he allegedly caused a collision involving a second car at about 5:10 p.m., police said.

Officers found Bryson “alone and unconscious behind the wheel of his vehicle,” the statement said. “He was treated at the scene by Los Angeles County Fire paramedics and transported to a local hospital for medical aid where he was admitted for treatment for non life-threatening injuries.”

The police also reported:

• Two of the three males involved in the first collision were treated by paramedics for pain.

• The second vehicle that was struck was a Honda Accord occupied by a man and a woman, one of whom complained of pain as a result of the collision. They suffered no major injuries and declined medical aid.

• There was minor damage to Bryson’s Lexus and Honda Accord.

• The investigation is in its preliminary stages and there is currently no indication that alcohol or drugs played a role in the collisions. All parties were cooperative with law enforcement.

Bryson’s vehicle was stored by San Gabriel Police Department officers pending investigation. The San Gabriel collision is under investigation as a felony hit and run.

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