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US commerce secretary resigns after car crashes

25 june 2012, 10:04
0
US President Barack Obama (R) with commerce secretary John Bryson. ©AFP
US President Barack Obama (R) with commerce secretary John Bryson. ©AFP
US commerce secretary John Bryson announced his resignation Thursday, just weeks after he was involved in a sequence of car crashes in California that were blamed on a seizure, AFP reports.

In a letter to President Barack Obama, Bryson said he would leave the cabinet, judging his June 9 seizure "could be a distraction from my performance as secretary."

"Our country would be better served by a change in leadership at the department," he continued.

Bryson is under a felony investigation in California over the two hit-and-run incidents.

According to an account of events from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department on that Saturday evening, Bryson's Lexus rear-ended another car as it waited at a railway crossing in the city of San Gabriel.

Bryson then spoke to three men in the damaged car and drove away, but hit their Buick again in the process.

He then drove to the city of Rosemead, where he struck a second car.

The secretary later was found "alone and unconscious behind the wheel of his vehicle," said officials.

Neither alcohol nor drugs were suspected as being factors in the accidents, and no one was injured, but the 68-year-old took a medical leave of absence afterward.

According to the US National Institutes for Health seizures can be cause by a broad range of health problems from high glucose levels to meningitis to heart disease.

Bryson's staff have said he had no history of seizures, although the Los Angeles Times reported that in the days leading up to the incidents he had spoken at his daughters' school and had sometimes appeared to ramble and repeat himself.

Bryson told staff early Thursday he would be replaced -- at least temporarily -- by current deputy commerce secretary Rebecca Blank, who has served in his place since he went on leave.

He had been tapped for the cabinet post last year after predecessor Gary Locke became ambassador to China.

His candidature was seen as an attempt by Obama to mend ties with business and to get the US economy back on track.

It won overwhelming cross-party support, passing the Senate in a 74 to 26 vote in favor, thanks to his business acumen, which had led him to stints on the boards of Boeing and Walt Disney.

Bryson described his department's main role as being "to help America's entrepreneurs and businesses build our economy and create jobs."

In a statement Thursday, Obama praised Bryson's work.

"I want to extend my deepest thanks and appreciation to John for his service over the past months, and wish him and his family the very best," the president said in a statement.

"As secretary, John fought tirelessly for our nation's businesses and workers, helping to bolster our exports and promote American manufacturing and products at home and abroad."

The two men later met in the Oval Office, with Bryson looking cheerful and healthy.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, urged the quick appointment of a replacement.

"That's a very unfortunate thing that Secretary Bryson got sick," Reid told reporters.

"I would hope that the president could get a consensus nominee forward and we could get it done," he added.

"The Commerce Department is important and shouldn't be without someone leading that important agency."

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