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Commerce Secretary Bryson on medical leave after San Gabriel accidents

Commerce Secretary John Bryson speaks at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012.
Susan Walsh/AP
Commerce Secretary John Bryson speaks at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012.

The Obama administration announced tonight that Commerce Secretary John Bryson will go on medical leave following his involvement series of car accidents in the San Gabriel Valley over the weekend.

“We’re obviously concerned about the incident, concerned about Secretary Bryson’s health-related issues that played a role in this incident," Spokesman Jay Carney said earlier in the day. "We’re still gathering information about it.”

A Commerce Department spokesman said Bryson, who lives in San Marino, had a seizure. Police are continuing to investigate the incident in which Bryson hit the same car twice within a few minutes in the city of San Gabriel. He spoke with the driver the first time, but didn't stop the second.

“Mr. Bryson left the scene of the collision, which resulted in it being classified as a hit and run collision," Los Angeles County Sheriff's Lt. Margarito Robles said.

Robles said the driver or one of his passengers called 911. But before police could respond, Bryson hit another car in the nearby city of Rosemead. “Mr. Bryson was found alone and unconscious behind the wheel of his vehicle."

Bryson, 68, stayed overnight at a hospital and flew back to Washington D.C. on Sunday. Robles said sheriff’s officials felt confident they could find him if they want to question him further.

It’s unclear what legal problems Bryson may face. Police cited him for felony hit-and-run. It’ll be up to the district attorney to decide whether to file charges. If he had a seizure, and was unable to think properly, prosecutors may opt to drop any charges.

The term "seizure" describes a wide range of symptoms, Dr. Chirag Patil, a neurosurgeon at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, said.

“It can just be a twitch of the arm or the leg, all the way to a complex seizure where the individual completely passes out and loses consciousness.”

Patil said people in Bryon’s age range – their mid- to late 60s – are at greater risk. The causes can include infection, a change in medications, or even adult onset epilepsy.

The doctor – who is not involved with Bryson’s treatment - said he found it "interesting" that the Commerce Secretary flew on a plane so quickly after the incident. He added that Bryson’s doctors likely prescribed medication to prevent further seizures.

ABC News reports that Bryson blacked out at a board meeting for Boeing four years ago. If that happened, California law would have required Bryson to report it to the Department of Motor Vehicles. His doctor would have had to report it too, Patil said.

"All physicians have to report a condition that can cause lapses of consciousness," he said.

President Obama appointed Bryson as Commerce Secretary a year and a half ago. Before that, he headed Edison International – the parent company of Southern California Edison. He previously sat on the boards of Boeing, Disney, Stanford University and Cal Tech. Bryson founded the Natural Resources Defense Counsel in 1969.

Bryson was in Southern California in part to deliver a commencement speech at a private high school in Pasadena last Thursday. Bryson’s wife sits on the board of Southern California Public Radio, the parent company of KPCC.