NYTimes- Commerce Secretary Takes Medical Leave After Hit-and-Run Crash
Commerce Secretary Takes Medical Leave After Hit-and-Run Crash
By ADAM NAGOURNEY and HELENE COOPER
LOS ANGELES — It began Saturday afternoon at a railroad crossing in a run-down commercial neighborhood in suburban San Gabriel, on a street bustling with signs in Chinese characters. A man in a Lexus rolled into the back of a Buick waiting for a train to pass. Two miles and five minutes later, the Lexus smacked into the rear of yet another car, in neighboring Rosemead.
The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office found the driver passed out at the wheel and took him to the hospital for observation. He was cited for a hit-and-run.
The driver was John E. Bryson, the commerce secretary, one of the lower-profile members of President Obama’s cabinet but a well-known figure in California energy and business circles. The episode set off a squall of speculation and questions from here to the White House about what had happened in the San Gabriel Valley.
By late Monday night, Mr. Bryson informed the White House that he would be taking a medical leave of absence to undergo tests and evaluation and that Deputy Secretary Rebecca M. Blank would assume his duties.
“The president’s thoughts are with Secretary Bryson and his family during this time,” said Jay Carney, the White House spokesman. “Secretary Bryson assured the White House that the Commerce Department staff will not miss a beat in their work helping America’s businesses compete.”
The White House said Mr. Bryson had suffered a seizure. But officials there and at the Commerce Department declined to offer details on Mr. Bryson’s medical history, including what might have caused the seizure, and took pains to say they were not saying the seizure caused the episode. They said that this was the first such seizure he had suffered.
“The commerce secretary was alone,” Mr. Carney said. “He had a seizure. He was involved in an accident.”
White House officials said Mr. Bryson had told them that he did not recall the events leading to the episode.
Mr. Bryson passed a breathalyzer test at the scene and submitted to a blood toxicology test, said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office. He said that if the report came back negative, Mr. Bryson would not be charged.
There were no significant injuries, or heavy vehicular damage, in the accidents, which took place shortly past 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Mr. Bryson, 68, maintains a home here in San Marino, not far from where the accidents occurred, and in Washington, according to friends. He was in town to deliver a commencement address at Polytechnic School, a private prep school in Pasadena that his four daughters attended. He was not accompanied by a security detail, officials said.
Mr. Bryson kept a low profile in the community — some neighbors said they were not even aware who lived in the two-story house at the end of a cul-de-sac — though they had noted a police car there at times. A black Lexus was parked in front of his house on Monday, but there was no answer at the door.
The police can arrest a driver in a hit-and-run, but Mr. Bryson was cited instead because he needed to go to the hospital, Mr. Whitmore said. The San Gabriel police apparently allowed him to leave the state after he was released from the hospital, he said. Mr. Bryson had returned to Washington on Monday.
According to the police, Mr. Bryson’s car hit the Buick, which had three men inside, at the railroad crossing. He got out to offer to exchange information, then returned to his car and slowly drove off. As he was leaving, he hit the car again, the police said.
The three men followed Mr. Bryson as he drove two miles up San Gabriel Boulevard and called 911, before he hit the second car, a Honda Accord.
Cesar Castaneda, 27, who works at Karina’s Tacos, on the corner of where the second accident occurred, said the Lexus did not appear to have been damaged. “I saw them as towing was taking the Lexus away,” he said.
The Commerce Department notified the White House on Sunday evening, and Mr. Obama was informed Monday morning. Many of Mr. Obama’s nominations have faced complaints from the right and the left, but Mr. Bryson’s appointment as commerce secretary last May, to succeed Gary F. Locke, drew plaudits from both business and environmental groups.
But it soon became ensnared. Mr. Bryson, a former chief executive of Southern California electric conglomerate Edison International and the founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, was accused by Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, of advocating Mr. Obama’s “job-killing” environmental agenda. Mr. Bryson was confirmed in October 2011.
On Monday, American Crossroads, the “super PAC” run by Karl Rove, posted on Twitter asking how Mr. Bryson could have had three car crashes in five minutes “and alcohol NOT be involved.” As more details about the accident emerged, Crossroads apologized for the post.
Mr. Bryson has a valid driver’s license issued in California. Dr. Keith L. Black, the head of neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said in this kind of episode, the Department of Motor Vehicles would typically suspend the driver’s license for six months, pending a review of medical treatment.
Mr. Bryson helped to found the Natural Resources Defense Council in 1970 and spent almost 20 years at Southern California Edison. He was also president of the California Public Utilities Commission.
Adam Nagourney reported from Los Angeles, and Helene Cooper from Washington. Reporting was contributed by Jennifer Medina from Los Angeles; Ian Lovett from San Gabriel, Calif.; Ana Facio-Krajcer from San Marino, Calif.; and Michael D. Shear from Washington.