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Utah soccer referee dies after teen punches him in the face

May 5, 2013, 8:12 AM EDT

Referee Punched

Horrible news out of Utah late last night as a soccer referee has died after slipping into a coma following being punched in the face by a teenage player during a game played on Saturday April 27th.

Ricardo Portillo of Salt Lake City passed away at Intermountain Medical Center where he was being treated for a punch he received after whistling a 17 year old player for a foul and issuing him a yellow card. The player, who has not been named because of his age, reportedly threw a single punch at Portillo.

The punch caused Portillo to suffer swelling in his brain, landing him in critical condition. While no cause of death has been released, a planned autopsy is expected to confirm the punch as the proximate cause.

Police continue to collect details of the incident and as of now, most are based on hearsay. But it appears that the teen was playing goalkeeper when he pushed an opposing forward who was in the midst of a goal scoring opportunity. Portillo deemed the contact to be egregious enough to warrant a caution.

The player immediately began arguing with Portillo before unleashing a punch to the side of the referee’s head. Portillo was reportedly writing down the booking at the time of the punch. Following the punch Portillo appeared to be OK but then claimed he felt dizzy. He sat down and started vomiting blood, at which time his friend called an ambulance.

When police arrived at Eisenhower Junior High School in Taylorsville, the goalkeeper was nowhere to be found. Portillo was conscious but in the fetal position complaining of nausea and pain in his face and back. EMT’s transported him to the hospital in fair condition but soon after arriving he slipped into a coma with swelling in his brain.

Detectives searched for the player and his father brought the 17 year old in to speak with police.

Apparently, this is not the first time Portillo had been attacked in a match. Portillo’s family claims he had been attacked before, and the referee’s daughter, 26 year old Johanna Portillo, said she and her sisters begged their father to stop refereeing because of the risk from angry players.

Portillo refused, however, because of his love for soccer. “It was his passion,” she said. “We could not tell him no.”

Following the incident the player was booked into juvenile detention on suspicion of aggravated assault. With Portillo’s death, the teen will now be charged with homicide, likely manslaughter. The major determination of the player’s punishment will be whether or not he is charged as an adult. In Utah, there are several circumstances under which a juvenile may be tried in adult court. These include cases where the juvenile is fourteen years or older and has been charged with a serious felony.

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