WASHINGTON – Commerce Secretary John Bryson resigned Thursday less than two weeks after suffering a seizure and multiple car accidents in the Los Angeles area, saying he didn't want his health to be a distraction from his job.
Bryson, a 68-year-old former California utility executive, served as a member of President Barack Obama's economic team and advised the president on energy issues. He made his resignation official in a letter to Obama dated Wednesday, saying it was a "consequence of a recent seizure and a medical leave of absence."
"I have concluded that the seizure I suffered on June 9 could be a distraction from my performance as secretary, and that our country would be better served by a change in leadership," Bryson wrote.
Obama met with Bryson in the Oval Office on Thursday to thank him for his service. The president said in a statement he had accepted the resignation and that Bryson had provided "invaluable experience and expertise" to his administration.
Bryson's resignation followed a series of traffic incidents in Southern California on June 9. Authorities said Bryson was driving alone in a Lexus near Los Angeles when he struck a vehicle that had stopped for a passing train. He spoke briefly with the three occupants, and then hit their car again as he departed.
The secretary then struck a second car in a nearby city, where he was later found unconscious in his car. Commerce officials said Bryson had not suffered a seizure previously and had "limited recall of the event" involved in the crashes.
In a message to Commerce Department employees, Bryson said their efforts to help American businesses "build our economy and create jobs is more important now than ever." Obama is in the midst of an intense re-election race that will largely be determined by the fate of the economy. Bryson said he would keep supporting Obama in a "personal capacity."
Earlier this month, Bryson transferred his functions and duties as secretary to Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank, who is now acting commerce secretary. White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama had "a great deal of confidence" in Blank but declined to elaborate on any plans to find a permanent successor.
Bryson was cited for felony hit-and-run, although he has not been charged. Los Angeles County district attorney's spokeswoman Jane Robison said the district attorney's office has not been presented any case for review. She said the incident remained under investigation by the original law enforcement agency, the San Gabriel Police Department.
Bryson took a Breathalyzer test that didn't detect any alcohol, authorities said. Investigators were awaiting the results from a blood test to determine whether there were alcohol or drugs in Bryson's system at the time of the collisions. The results likely will come back next week, Lt. Margarito Robles of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said.
The commerce secretary post, typically a low-profile Cabinet position, has been problematic for Obama since his first weeks in office. Obama's first pick to run the department, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, withdrew from consideration because of a federal investigation into how his political donors won contracts in the state. Obama then nominated New Hampshire Republican Sen. Judd Gregg, but he also withdrew, 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 secretary until 2011, when Obama asked him to move to China to become U.S. ambassador there. Obama then tapped Bryson to fill the post.
Bryson is the former head of Edison International, the holding company that owns Southern California Edison, and has served on boards of major corporations, including the Boeing Co. and the Walt Disney Co.
Associated Press writers John Antczak and Greg Risling in Los Angeles contributed to this report.