US soccer referee punched by player dies

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(AP Photo)

(AP Photo)

MURRAY, Utah (AP) — Ricardo Portillo’s daughters had begged him to stop refereeing in a Hispanic soccer league because of the growing risk of violence from angry players.

Now they’re faced with planning his funeral after he succumbed to injuries late Saturday that had put him in a coma for a week since a 17-year-old goalie punched him in the head.

Authorities say the teen punched Portillo after the youth was called for a foul and issued a yellow card.

“The suspect was close to Portillo and punched him once in the face as a result of the call,” Unified police spokesman Justin Hoyal in a press release.

The suspect has been booked into juvenile detention on suspicion of aggravated assault. Hoyal said authorities will consider additional charges since the 46-year-old Salt Lake City man has died.

Hoyal said an autopsy is planned. No cause of death was released.

Portillo suffered swelling in his brain and had been listed in critical condition, Dr. Shawn Smith said Thursday at the Intermountain Medical Center in the Salt Lake City suburb of Murray.

The victim’s family spoke publicly of Portillo’s plight this past week, but has asked for privacy, Hoyal said.

The unaffiliated soccer league, Liga Continental de Fútbol, updated its Facebook posting Sunday with a tribute to Portillo including a number of photographs of him refereeing and playing soccer. It also set up a bank account to accept donations for his family. No plans have been announced for a funeral or memorial services.

Mario Vazquez, the league president who also was a friend and worked with Portillo, said Sunday everyone in the league had the greatest respect for him.

“We will miss him at the soccer fields. He loved the game and loved doing his job. Ricardo always had a great sense of humor and loved being in the service of others,” Vazquez said.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Portillo family during this difficult time. Ricardo will always be with us,” he said.

Daughter Johana Portillo, 26, said last week that she wasn’t at the April 27 game in the Salt Lake City suburb of Taylorsville, but she said she’s been told by witnesses and detectives that the player hit her father in the side of the head.

“When he was writing down his notes, he just came out of nowhere and punched him,” she said. She did not immediately respond to a text message request for comment The Associated Press sent her on Sunday.

Accounts from a police report, Portillo’s daughter and others offer further detail what occurred.

The teenager was playing goalie during a game at Eisenhower Junior High School in Taylorsville when Portillo issued him a yellow card for pushing an opposing forward trying to score. In soccer, a yellow card is given as a warning to a player for an egregious violation of the rules. Two yellow cards lead to a red card and expulsion from the game.

The teenager, quite a bit heavier than Portillo, began arguing with the referee, then punched him in the face. Portillo seemed fine at first, then asked to be held because he felt dizzy. He sat down and started vomiting blood, triggering his friend to call an ambulance.

When police arrived around noon, the teenager was gone and Portillo was laying on the ground in the fetal position. Through translators, Portillo told emergency workers that his face and back hurt and he felt nauseous. He had no visible injuries and remained conscious. He was considered to be in fair condition when they took him to the Intermountain Medical Center.

But when Portillo arrived to the hospital, he slipped into a coma with swelling in his brain. Johana Portillo called detectives to let them know his condition had worsened.

That’s when detectives intensified their search for the goalie. By Saturday evening, the teenager’s father agreed to bring him down to speak with police.

Portillo’s family said he had been attacked before, and Johanna Portillo said she and her sisters had pleaded with their father to stop refereeing because of the risk from angry players, but he continued because he loved soccer.

“It was his passion,” she said. “We could not tell him no.”

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