Former U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson denied being on any medications when officers found him barely conscious in the driver’s seat of his Lexus following a bizarre series of car crashes last month in Southern California.
The investigation that followed, however, found Bryson, 68, had the sleep drug Ambien in his system. Prosecutors later said it was unclear whether the drug played a role in the collisions.
The entire investigation, including those first few moments after officers arrived on scene, was detailed in reports made public for the first time this week by the San Gabriel, Calif., Police Department and obtained by TPM through a public records request.
Bryson was originally accused by police of felony hit and run in the June 9 collisions after he rear-ended a car, drove away and then crashed into a second car minutes later in the Los Angeles suburbs.
He later resigned from President Obama’s cabinet, citing health concerns. But last week, prosecutors declined to charge him with the crime and blamed the crashes on a seizure.
In the report, an officer wrote that he arrived at the scene and found Bryson appearing unconscious with his head laid against his headrest. Standing in the doorway of the vehicle, the officer talked to him and Bryson slowly opened his eyes and and began answering questions.
Bryson denied having any medical problems or taking any medication. He told the officer he felt “drowsy.” When asked why, he replied, “It’s mid afternoon.” He told the officer he had no idea what just happened.
The report said Bryson was taken to Methodist Hospital in Arcadia and checked in under the alias “Camron Mendoza.” There, he told officers he had no recollection of what happened between the time he started driving and when he was discovered at the second crash scene.
He told them he went to yoga class for 1½ hours that morning and had been diagnosed with low blood pressure, but he did not mention any other medical conditions. He passed an alcohol breath test at the hospital and agreed to let officers take a sample of his blood for drug testing. The test later came back showing a concentration of .04 ug/ml of Zolpidem, the sedative sold under the brand name Ambien.
One of the questions unanswered by the report was what evidence authorities had that Bryson ever suffered a seizure. Police investigators previously told TPM that Bryson’s medical records were subpoenaed as part of the probe, but nothing in the report references those records or provides any details about a medical diagnosis.
The report did answer other questions, though. For example, it finally revealed the names of the people who were in the other cars Bryson hit.
In the first car were brothers Richard, Daniel and Raymond Sanchez, who were stopped at a railroad crossing waiting for a train to pass when Bryson hit them from behind.
After the crash, Bryson pulled in front of their Buick and stopped. Richard Sanchez, 26, got out of the driver’s side and Bryson got out of his own car.
Bryson was the first to speak up, Sanchez told police.
“What happened?” Bryson asked.
“What do you mean, what happened?” Sanchez said. “You just hit us,”
Bryson appeared to be “very disoriented,” Sanchez told police.
Sanchez suggested they pull over and exchange information. Both men got back into their vehicles, but Bryson quickly backed into Sanchez’s car and then drove forward and took off.
The brothers began to chase him. Bryson sped up to about 50 mph. One of the brothers called 911 during the chase and told the dispatcher Bryson appeared to be drunk.
Several miles down the road, Bryson ran into the back of a Honda driven by Steven Minh, 38, who was stopped at a red light. Sanchez used his car to box Bryson in so he couldn’t drive away again.
By that point, police were already on the way.
Richard Sanchez talked to Los Angeles television station KTLA last week and said he asked for Bryson to be charged in the collision. After finding out the secretary got off, he was disappointed.
Asked if he believed Bryson got preferential treatment, Sanchez replied: “Probably.”
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