Driver recounts collisions with commerce secretary

Jul 5, 2012, 11:38 PM

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) – A California man whose vehicle was struck twice by a car driven by then U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson said Thursday he had narrowly averted another collision with the Cabinet member moments before his Buick was rear-ended at a rail crossing.

Driver Rich Sanchez said Bryson seemed disoriented, confused and glassy-eyed after the June 9 collision. The two planned to exchange insurance information but Bryson instead drove away, he said.

“I was definitely confused and angry,” Sanchez said. “I looked at my brother and we wondered what just happened.”

Sanchez’s car was hit twice by Bryson’s Lexus while they were waiting for a train to pass.

Prosecutors declined to file charges against Bryson, saying doctors determined he was confused after suffering a seizure.

Sanchez, his older brother and nephew were going to a graduation ceremony for a relative when they first encountered Bryson minutes before the collisions near a golf course.

“He actually veered into our lane,” Sanchez said. “I had to speed up to get out of his way.”

Bryson, 68, resigned as commerce secretary on June 21, saying then he had suffered a seizure and didn’t want his health to be a distraction from his job. He had been in California to deliver the commencement address at Pasadena Polytechnic School, which his four children attended.

The Commerce Department said at the time that Bryson had a “limited recall of the events” and had not suffered any previous seizures.

Bryson was cited by police for felony hit-and run, and tests revealed he didn’t have any alcohol or drugs in his system. Low amounts of Ambien were found in his bloodstream, but investigators couldn’t determine if the sleep aid was a factor in the collisions.

Sanchez, 26, of La Verne said his vehicle was the last of eight or nine cars waiting for a freight train to go by when Bryson struck the back of his car while going about 25 mph then pulled in front of it.

“We both got out of our cars and he said, `Well what do you think happened?'” Sanchez recalls Bryson asking him. “I said, `You just hit me.'”

After the train passed, Bryson backed up into Sanchez’s car and drove away.

Sanchez said he followed Bryson and had his brother call 911. Minutes later, Bryson hit a center divider and then rear-ended another car at a stoplight.

Bryson was found unconscious and slumped over the wheel. Sanchez said Bryson eventually came to and spoke with police before being taken away by ambulance.

Sanchez and his brother suffered minor injuries and have been working with Bryson’s insurance company to resolve the matter. Damages to his vehicle are at least $1,000, he said.

Sanchez said he hasn’t heard from Bryson and isn’t looking to file a lawsuit, but he does believe Bryson did receive preferential treatment.

“I feel if it was anybody else they would have spent at least a night in jail,” he said. “My biggest concern was ensuring my family and I were taken care of and we have been.”

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Driver recounts collisions with commerce secretary