White House: No timetable for Bryson’s return
WASHINGTON — The White House said Tuesday there was no timetable for Commerce Secretary John Bryson’s return from medical leave after he suffered a seizure connected to two traffic accidents in California over the weekend.
President Barack Obama spoke briefly with Bryson Tuesday morning, his first conversation with the secretary since the Saturday accidents.
Bryson informed the White House Monday that he was taking a medical leave of absence to undergo tests. He did not specify how long he would remain on leave but said he would not perform the functions and duties of the office “during the period of my illness.”
The 68-year-old former utility executive struck a car stopped for a train twice on Saturday afternoon and then hit another vehicle with his car a few minutes later in a nearby community. He was found unconscious in his car, and government officials said Monday he had had a seizure.
Bryson had not suffered a seizure previously, according to a department official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the secretary’s medical history. It was not clear whether the medical episode preceded or followed the collisions. Bryson has a “limited recall of the events,” the official said.
Bryson’s leave represented the latest change at the Commerce Department, which includes agencies as diverse as the Census Bureau and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Obama’s first pick to run the department was former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who withdrew from consideration because of a federal investigation into how his political donors won contracts in his state. Obama then nominated New Hampshire Republican Sen. Judd Gregg, but he also withdrew his name, saying he realized he had “irresolvable conflicts” with the president’s economic policies.
The president finally found success with Gary Locke, the former Washington state governor. Locke served as commerce secretary until 2011, when Obama asked him to move to China to become the U.S. ambassador. Obama then tapped Bryson, an energy executive, to fill the post.
Authorities said Bryson was driving alone in a Lexus in San Gabriel, a community of about 40,000 northeast of Los Angeles, when he struck the rear of a vehicle that had stopped for a passing train, authorities said. He spoke briefly with the three occupants and then hit their car again as he departed, investigators said. They followed him while calling police.
Bryson was cited for felony hit-and-run, although he has not been charged. The secretary then struck a second car in the nearby city of Rosemead, where he was found unconscious in his car, authorities said.
Bryson returned to Washington after a brief hospital stay, department spokeswoman Jennifer Friedman said.
Officials said Bryson was not on government business, was driving a personal car and did not have a security detail at the time.
He took a Breathalyzer test that didn’t detect any alcohol, but investigators were awaiting the results from a blood test, said Los Angeles County sheriff’s Capt. Mike Parker.
Commerce officials said he was given medication to treat the seizure.