Investigators in Southern California weren’t ruling out any explanations for a pair of bizarre weekend collisions involving U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson, including that drugs or alcohol were involved or that he suffered a prolonged seizure.
Bryson was cited for felony hit and run after he allegedly rear-ended a car on Saturday night in the city of San Gabriel, drove away and then crashed into another car several minutes later in the neighboring city of Rosemead. At the second crash scene, police found Bryson unconscious behind the wheel of his Lexus and emergency crews took him to a nearby hospital.
On Monday morning, spokesmen for both the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the San Gabriel Police Department told TPM that drugs and alcohol had not yet been ruled out. They said no evidence so far has pointed to substances as the cause of the crashes, but they were still waiting for test results to come back from a crime lab.
“We can’t confirm that it was no drugs or alcohol,” San Gabriel police Lt. Ariel Duran said. “We don’t know until all the testing comes back. So at this point, it could be one of those or it could be medical.”
Duran said Bryson was given a citation for felony hit and run instead of being arrested because he was in no condition to be taken to jail. He said Bryson will have to appear in court within 60 days. Duran also told Politico that Bryson submitted to a breathalyzer test at the scene, which showed no signs of alcohol.
Meanwhile, Commerce Department spokeswoman Jennifer Friedman released a statement saying Bryson “suffered a seizure.” She said he spent the night in the hospital before being released the next morning and had already returned to Washington, D.C.
But while the commerce department said the problem was medical, sheriff’s investigators weren’t yet so sure. Sheriff’s Lt. Margarito Robles told TPM they couldn’t confirm the seizure diagnosis because they didn’t have any evidence to show that. “We are not putting that out, because we don’t have that yet,” he said.
The crashes spurred two separate investigations, with San Gabriel police looking into the first collision and the sheriff’s department handling the second.
A statement from the sheriff’s office described the events in detail. It said Bryson was driving south on San Gabriel Boulevard in San Gabriel at 5:05 p.m., when he rear-ended a stopped Buick with three men inside who waiting for a train to pass. Bryson allegedly spoke to the men and then drove away, hitting the Buick again as he left. The men called police and started following the secretary.
Authorities said Bryson kept driving south on San Gabriel Boulevard and collided with a Honda Accord at about 5:10 p.m., in the neighboring city of Rosemead. There, police found him unconscious in the driver’s seat. Los Angeles County fire crews treated him at the scene and then took him to a hospital. The sheriff’s office described Bryson’s injuries as “non life-threatening” but said nothing about the injuries beyond that.
The others who were hit suffered minor injuries, authorities said, and were either treated at the scene or declined medical treatment altogether.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Bryson was in the area on Thursday giving a commencement speech at the Pasadena Polytechnic School, which his daughters attended. Citing anonymous sources, the newspaper also reported he had no security detail with him because he was driving his own car on personal time.
Bryson is a longtime resident of southern California, holding the titles of chairman and chief executive of Edison International for 18 years until 2008. Edison is headquartered in Rosemead and is one of the largest electric power companies in the nation. Before being appointed as commerce secretary under the Obama administration, he also served on the boards of the Boeing Company and the Walt Disney Company.
Saturday’s incident apparently isn’t the first time Bryson has had problems in public. ABC News cited an anonymous witness who said Bryson blacked out at a Boeing board meeting about four years ago and was taken to the hospital. It’s unclear what was the cause of that incident.
Additional reporting by Pema Levy
Nick Martin is an associate editor at TPM in New York City. He came to the site in 2011 as a reporter for TPMMuckraker. Previously, he worked in Arizona, first as a staff reporter for a local newspaper and later as a freelance journalist. He also ran the news blog Heat City. Contact him: nick [at] talkingpointsmemo.com