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U.S. Commerce secretary on medical leave

June 11, 2012 at 11:22 PM   |   Comments

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SAN GABRIEL, Calif., June 11 (UPI) -- U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson will go on medical leave after being involved in two hit-and-run collisions in California, the White House said Monday.

"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, White House press secretary Jay Carney said 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."

The White House said earlier in the day it did not learn Bryson had a seizure and was in multiple car crashes until a day after the collisions. Carney told reporters at his afternoon briefing the White House was informed by the Commerce Department Sunday evening and President Barack Obama was told Monday morning.

Carney said the president had not spoken with Bryson, though Chief of Staff Jack Lew had during the morning. Carney offered no further details about Bryson's accidents or condition.

"We're obviously concerned about the incident, concerned about Secretary Bryson's health-related issues that played a role in this incident, and we're still gathering information about it," Carney said.

The press secretary said Obama's staff was "in discussions" with Commerce officials about when the White House was notified of the Saturday incidents involving Bryson, noting "whenever a senior official is involved in an incident of this nature or any kind of incident like it, it's obviously important that the White House find out about it."

"This circumstance was pretty unique in that Secretary Bryson was alone, was not with a security detail, was on private time, which is common for certain members of the Cabinet, and it resulted in him being -- both having a seizure and ending up in the hospital," Carney said "But in general, certainly it's important that the White House be informed as soon as possible."

Bryson "suffered a seizure," a Commerce Department spokeswoman said. It was unclear whether the seizure caused the crashes or if a collision resulted in the seizure, The Washington Post reported.

"Secretary Bryson was involved in a traffic accident in Los Angeles over the weekend. He suffered a seizure," spokeswoman Jennifer Friedman said. "He was taken to the hospital for examination and remained overnight for observation. He was released and has returned to Washington. The investigation is ongoing."

Bryson was cited for felony hit-and-run after his car hit one vehicle twice in San Gabriel and struck a second vehicle in nearby Rosemead. Police found Bryson unconscious in his Lexus about 5 p.m. Saturday and took him to an area hospital.

No serious injuries were reported in the accidents.

Lt. Ariel Duran of the San Gabriel police said the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office would decide whether to prosecute Bryson after a review of toxicology and medical tests and the findings of a police investigation, the Post said.

A sheriff's department statement said a preliminary investigation showed no indication drugs or alcohol were involved, and that "all parties" were cooperating with law enforcement authorities.

Bryson, 68, a former chairman of Edison International, was appointed commerce secretary in October.

Carney said he had no information about whether the president had been aware Bryson has a medical condition making him prone to seizures, and said "there's more that needs to be learned" before it can be determined whether Bryson is healthy and fit to serve.

When a reporter commented to Carney that Bryson apparently had some kind of episode during a board meeting a couple of years ago, Carney replied he had "no information on that and don't know even if it's true."

The Los Angeles Times reported a Commerce Department official said Bryson suffered a seizure in the crashes and had never had a seizure before. The officials said Bryson had a "limited recall of the events."

Bryson was back in his Washington office Monday but had no public events scheduled. The official said the secretary "remains in touch with his doctors who are monitoring his progress," the Times said.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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