* White House says Bryson will undergo tests
* Bryson said he needs to address health issues
* Bryson suffered a seizure, aides say
* Police cite Bryson for one hit-and-run crash, no charges
(Adds Bryson taking medical leave, White House statement)
By Susan Heavey and Steve Gorman
WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES, June 11 (Reuters) - U.S. Commerce
Secretary John Bryson, under investigation for his role in two
car crashes in California over the weekend that aides linked to
a seizure, will take an immediate medical leave of absence, he
said on Monday night.
Neither Bryson, 68, nor the White House disclosed any new
information in separate statements about his illness other than
to say he will undergo tests and evaluation.
"I notified President (Barack) 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 said in a statement
released by his office.
Rebecca Blank, Bryson's deputy, will serve as acting
secretary of the agency that oversees several federal agencies
and focuses on business issues.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that "the president's
thoughts are with Secretary Bryson and his family during this
Obama said in a television interview earlier in the day the
administration was working to find out what happened but that
"we're going to make sure that he gets the best care." Obama was
not more specific.
Bryson was hospitalized in California but returned to
Washington on Monday while police continued their investigation
of the bizarre events on Saturday that occurred near his Los
Angeles-area home and included a suspected hit-and-run crash.
The incident immediately raised questions about Bryson's
health and his future leadership at the agency as Obama courts
business leaders in his bid to win a second term in November.
Carney said Obama believes Bryson has served "effectively".
Asked whether Obama was aware that Bryson had any kind of
medical condition when he selected him for office, Carney would
only say: "The president nominated Secretary Bryson to serve
because he felt he was capable of doing the job."
Bryson is an energy expert and seasoned businessman. He has
held the job for less than a year.
UNCONSCIOUS BEHIND THE WHEEL
Police in Southern California said Bryson was found
unconscious on Saturday behind the wheel of his Lexus after
crashing into the same car twice, leaving the scene and then
colliding with another vehicle. At least one crash is being
investigated as a felony hit-and-run.
It was not immediately clear whether the seizure led to
either of the car crashes or if Bryson has been diagnosed with
any underlying illnesses. A Commerce official said he had never
had a seizure before.
"We cannot confirm the exact timing of the seizure, the
cause of the seizure or the sequence of events," the official
said. "The secretary was driving alone and at this point he has
a limited recall of the events."
Cabinet members or other senior aides entangled in legal
controversy always have the potential to cause political
headaches for a president - but never more so than in the midst
of a re-election campaign.
Police said so far "there is no indication that alcohol or
drugs played a role in the collisions." They added that Bryson
and others were cooperative with the investigation.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, which
would handle any prosecution in this case, told Reuters that so
far no charges have been formally filed.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve
Whitmore said Bryson has been officially cited on suspicion of a
felony hit-and-run offense in connection with the first
At the site of the second collision, Bryson voluntarily took
and passed a breath-based alcohol test, Whitmore said, adding
that authorities are awaiting results from a more comprehensive
blood test. If they come back negative, it was unlikely that
Bryson would be charged in connection with the second crash.
JOINED CABINET IN LATE 2011
California's San Gabriel Police Department said in a
statement that a preliminary investigation indicates Bryson
caused the first crash when his Lexus rear-ended a Buick in San
Gabriel on Saturday evening.
He spoke with three men in the Buick and then hit their car
again when leaving the scene, police said.
The second crash took place about five minutes later in
nearby Rosemead, California, when Bryson allegedly hit a Honda
Accord, according to the statement, which was issued jointly by
police and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
Paramedics treated Bryson at the crash site, where Los
Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Whitmore said Bryson was
found alone and unconscious. He later regained consciousness and
was admitted to a local hospital.
He was given medication to treat the seizure and remained
overnight for observation, Commerce's Friedman said. Bryson was
driving his own car on personal time and had no security detail
at the time of the crashes, she said.
Passengers in the other cars had no major injuries, police
Bryson is a former chief executive of Edison International
, a public utilities holding company headquartered in
Rosemead, and has served as Obama's secretary of commerce since
Business leaders and others generally praised Bryson's
appointment even as Obama experienced rocky relations with the
business community during his first two years in office.
Several industry sources told Reuters that they were unaware
if the secretary had any health issues.
Gholam Motamedi, a neurologist at Georgetown University
Medical Center and an expert in seizures, said the most common
type of seizure - a partial seizure - can last just minutes and
leave people confused.
"They often last one to two minutes and then gradually they
come out of it ... They've lost their awareness," said Motamedi,
who has no ties to Bryson or the case. "Obviously, it can be
very dangerous if you're driving."
Bryson appeared to be well enough on Thursday, when local
media reports said he gave the 2012 commencement address in
Pasadena, California at the Polytechnic School, where his four
daughters have graduated over the years.
As head of the Commerce Department, Bryson oversees the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Patent
and Trademark Office and the U.S. Census Bureau. He is also
responsible for administering U.S. trade laws against unfairly
(Additional reporting by Ron Grover in Los Angeles and Doug
Palmer and John Crawley in Washington; Writing by Matt
Spetalnick; Editing by Mary Milliken and Eric Walsh)
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