Soccer Referee Dies After Being Punched By Player In Youth Game

A soccer referee has died after a punch from a 17-year-old player sent him into a coma with swelling on his brain.

Richard Portillo, 46, of Salt Lake City, was being treated in a hospital intensive care unit in the days after the punch. He died on Saturday night.

Police say a 17-year-old player punched Portillo after the referee gave him a yellow card for conduct during the match. A yellow card is given for egregious conduct on the field, and two yellow cards results in an ejection for the player.

The 17-year-old accused of punching the referee was playing goalie and was carded for pushing an opposing forward trying to score. As Portillo was looking down to write the infraction the player punched him.

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

Portillo was initially shaken by the punch but seemed to be all right. Then he got dizzy and asked to be helped. When he sat on the ground Portillo vomited blood and curled into a fetal position.

He was taken to a hospital and initially listed in fair condition, but developed swelling on his brain and was soon moved to critical condition, Dr. Shawn Smith said Thursday at the Intermountain Medical Center in the Salt Lake City suburb of Murray.

His daughter, 26-year-old Johana Portillo, said the family was praying for a miracle in the days after the assault. She said her father had been assaulted twice by players before, breaking his ribs and leg and separate incidents. But soccer was a passion for her father, who was a former player himself, and he wouldn’t give up refereeing despite the family’s pleas.

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

The teenager who punched the referee initially fled the scene, but after Portillo’s condition worsened the boy’s father agreed to bring him in before the referee died.