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Secretary of Commerce John Bryson involved in two hit-and-runs

6/12/2012, 5 p.m.

Two days before he got into a string of crashes in the San Gabriel Valley, triggering a felony hit-and-run investigation, Commerce Secretary John Bryson delivered a commencement address that, uncharacteristically, he badly mangled, witnesses said in remarks published Tuesday.

In the aftermath of the crashes, which his office blamed on a seizure, the 68-year-old Bryson flew back to Washington, D.C., where the White House announced late Monday that he will take a medical leave of absence as "he undergoes tests and evaluations." His deputy, Rebecca Blank, will become acting secretary of commerce.

Bryson, who formerly headed Edison International, Southern California Edison's corporate parent, and who maintains a home in San Marino, was driving a Lexus southbound in the 400 block of South San Gabriel Boulevard in San Gabriel just after 5 p.m. Saturday when he rear-ended a Buick stopped on the street awaiting a passing train, the L.A. County Sheriff's Department and San Gabriel Police Department said in a joint statement.

Three men were inside the car. Bryson spoke with them, then struck the car again as he left the scene, and they followed while calling police, according to the statement.

Bryson then drove into neighboring Rosemead, where he allegedly struck a Honda Accord occupied by a man and a woman at San Gabriel Boulevard and Hellman Avenue around 5:10 p.m. Saturday. He was later found alone and unconscious behind the wheel of his Lexus, treated at the scene by Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedics and taken to a hospital, where he remained overnight.

None of the crashes resulted in serious injuries, and there were no indications that drugs or alcohol were factors, according to the Sheriff's Department and San Gabriel police.

A commencement address Bryson delivered before more than 1,000 people Thursday at Pasadena's prestigious Polytechnic School, which his daughters attended, may have provided a harbinger of what was to come.

Normally a polished speaker, Bryson mangled words without appearing to notice, one parent told the Los Angeles Times.

"It definitely seemed as though he lost his place at times--that he wasn't sure what he was saying," added Brad Olson, 18, a graduate who will attend Southern Methodist University in the fall.