May 5, 2013

Soccer ref punched by player in Utah dies

The teen is in juvenile detention on suspicion of aggravated assault, while police weigh additional charges.

The Associated Press

MURRAY, Utah — A 46-year-old soccer referee who was punched by a teenage player during a game and later slipped into a coma has died, police said.

Ricardo Portillo of Salt Lake City passed away at the hospital, where he was being treated following the assault last weekend, Unified police spokesman Justin Hoyal said Saturday night.

Police have accused a 17-year-old player in a recreational soccer league of punching Portillo after the man called a foul on him and issued him a yellow card.

"The suspect was close to Portillo and punched him once in the face as a result of the call," Hoyal said in a news release.

The teen, whose name hasn't been released because of his age, has been booked into juvenile detention on suspicion of aggravated assault.

Hoyal said authorities will consider additional charges since Portillo has died.

He 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, which publicly spoke of Portillo's plight this past week, has asked for privacy, Hoyal said.

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.

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

The teenager was playing goalie during a game at Eisenhower Junior High School in Taylorsville when Ricardo Portillo issued him a yellow card for pushing an opposing forward trying to score a goal. 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 unleashed a punch to his 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 EMTs 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 begged 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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