As he and another man chased down the driver who just hit their car and sped away, the man spoke urgently to a police dispatcher on the other end of the line: “We have a drunk driver that just hit us and fled!”
There was no way to know then that the person they were chasing was U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson or that the incident would later end the secretary’s term in President Obama’s cabinet.
Audio of the emergency call was posted online Monday by TMZ. While the names of the victims who chased Bryson are still unknown, the recording offers a dramatic fresh look into the events of June 9 when Bryson allegedly hit a car, drove away and crashed into another car in the Los Angeles suburbs.
The recording shows that the victims worried Bryson might drive onto the busy Interstate 10 in his dazed state and that they eventually used their own car to box in the secretary after the second crash.
“Stay there! We have him,” the caller could be heard shouting after the chase ended. “Don’t move. He’s drunk. Let him be. He hit us, too.”
The police dispatcher told the victims to wait there until officers arrived.
Last week, prosecutors with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office declined to charge Bryson with any crimes despite police investigators submitting a felony hit and run charge to them.
The prosecutors said two doctors determined Bryson was confused after suffering from some type of seizure. Blood tests also showed the secretary had the sleep drug Ambien in his system at the time, but the prosecutors said it was unclear whether the drug played a role.
Police have said Bryson was unconscious when they found him behind the wheel at the site of the second crash. But it’s impossible to tell from the audio of the emergency call whether he was awake before police arrived.
“He’s still in the car,” the caller told the dispatcher. “He’s sitting there. He’s in drive, but he’s stepping on his brakes. So we just want to make sure he doesn’t take off.”
Bryson, 68, was taken to a nearby hospital and released the next day. He resigned from his cabinet post on June 21.
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