June 11, 2012— -- Secretary of Commerce John Bryson is taking a medical leave of absence after a bizarre series of car accidents over the weekend in Los Angeles left him unconscious at his car steering wheel and cited by police for leaving the scene of an accident -- a felony offence.
Bryson has not been charged and he passed a breathalyzer Saturday night.
"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 in a memo to Deputy Secretary Dr. Rebecca Blank, who will take over for the time being.
A statement from the Commerce Department earlier Monday suggested Bryson had some sort of seizure. He was treated overnight Saturday and released on Sunday.
By Monday evening he had stepped down from his post for a medical leave. It is not clear if the hiatus will be permanent.
"Secretary Bryson informed the White House tonight that he will be taking a medical leave of absence from his position as Commerce Secretary as he undergoes tests and evaluations," said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in a statement. "The President's thoughts are with Secretary Bryson and his family during this time. Secretary Bryson assured the White House that the Commerce Department staff will not miss a beat in their work helping America's businesses compete."
Bryson was allegedly driving his Lexus traveling southbound on San Gabriel Boulevard at 5:05 Pacific Time when he rear-ended a Buick that had stopped and was waiting for a train to pass, authorities said.
Bryson got out of his car, spoke to the three males in the Buick, "then left the scene, hitting the same car as he left the scene," read a joint statement from the San Gabriel Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. "The three males followed him in their car while calling San Gabriel Police officers via 911 and asking for assistance."
In yet another bizarre twist to the story, about five minutes later Bryson allegedly then hit a Honda Accord containing a man and woman in the city of Rosemead and "was found alone and unconscious behind the wheel of his vehicle."
The law enforcement statement said that two of the three men in the Buick and one of the occupants of the Honda complained of pain as a result of the collisions. The men in the Buick were treated by paramedics. The statement said that the investigation was in its preliminary stages and "there is no indication that alcohol or drugs played a role in the collisions."
"Undoubtedly if he had a seizure I think that's something that's serious and therefore it's up to a medical staff to evaluate what's that all about," said Lee Baca of the LA County Sheriff's Office. "Well I would like a full explanation as to what caused the secretary to be engaged in an accident, what caused him to leave the accident and to what extent there a real injury there."
Four years ago Bryson blacked out at a Boeing board meeting and was taken to the hospital, according to a witness.
The weekend story was first reported by the Pasadena Star News. On Thursday, Bryson was commencement speaker at the Polytechnic School in Pasadena, from which all four of his daughters graduated.
Bryson was confirmed as Secretary of Commerce last October, having previously served as chairman and chief executive officer of Edison International, and on the boards of the Boeing Company and The Walt Disney Company, the parent company of ABC News. He and some of his classmates from Yale law school formed the Natural Resources Defense Council in 1971.