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Commerce Secretary in car accidents to take medical leave

 

The Obama cabinet member involved in two car accidents over the weekend in Los Angeles will be taking a medical leave to undergo tests and evaluations, he announced Monday night.

"I notified President 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," Commerce Secretary John Bryson said in a statement. "During the period of my illness, I will not perform the functions and duties of my office."

After Bryson was already cited for felony hit-and-run in one of the crashes, a spokeswoman from the Commerce Department said he had suffered a seizure.

Spokeswoman Jennifer Friedman confirmed that Bryson was involved, but pointed to medical reasons for the incident. 

"He suffered a seizure," she 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."  

A Commerce official later said that Bryson, who has "limited recall of the events," has not had a seizure before. 

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, asked Monday afternoon about the accidents, said "we're obviously concerned about the incident," and said Bryson's "health-related" issues "played a role." 

After Bryson announced his leave, Carney said the President's thoughts are with him and his family.

"Secretary Bryson assured the White House that the Commerce Department staff will not miss a beat in their work helping America's businesses compete," Carney added.

Reached for comment, a representative with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said he could not confirm whether Bryson had a seizure. Lt. Margarito Robles told Fox News that Bryson was cited in the first accident because he "left the scene." 

According to law enforcement, Bryson, 68, struck two cars a total of three times over the course of just a few minutes late Saturday afternoon. 

He was found unconscious in his car and was admitted to a local hospital for what were described as "non-life threatening injuries." Los Angeles law enforcement said there's "no indication" drugs or alcohol played a role in either collision. 

Lt. Ariel Duran, an official with the San Gabriel Police Department, told Fox News that Bryson was cooperative during the investigation and did supply a blood sample -- Duran said Bryson was not taken into custody since he was admitted to the hospital. 

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the San Gabriel Police Department said that in the first crash, Bryson was driving alone in his Lexus on a major street in San Gabriel when he allegedly struck the rear end of a Buick. He spoke with the occupants of that car before leaving the scene and "hitting the same car again as he left the scene," according to a police statement. The men in the Buick followed him. 

The agencies say minutes later he struck another vehicle, a Honda Accord, in a nearby community, and police arriving found him unconscious behind the wheel of his car.

Prosecutors will determine later if he'll be formally charged.

"The preliminary investigation indicates the collision was caused by suspect John Bryson, who is the United States Secretary of Commerce," the law enforcement statement said.

Two people in the first collision were treated by paramedics after complaining of pain, the officials said. The couple involved in the second crash also complained of pain but declined medical aid.

Damage to the vehicles was minor.

San Gabriel is located just northeast of Los Angeles.

President Obama swore in the former utility executive as the head the Commerce Department in October, after easily overcoming conservatives' objections that his pro-environmental views made him unsuited for the job.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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