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Video: Family vigil held for soccer referee who died from punch

May 6, 2013, 11:35 AM EDT

Referee Punched

The family of Ricardo Portillo – the soccer referee who died early Sunday morning after he was punched in the head during a match the week before – held a vigil encouraging athletes around the world to hold their tempers in check so another family doesn’t have to suffer.

Wearing white shirts and holding signs that read, “In loving memory of Ricky,” family members of the Utah soccer referee spoke at a candlelight vigil held on the front lawn of his Salt Lake City home. “He was a father, he was a friend, he was a grandfather, he left a whole family behind,” said Johana Portillo, the oldest of his three daughters. “They should think before they do something stupid.”

The 46 year old Portillo passed away following a week long coma that was the result of a brain swell, which occurred after he was punched in the head by a 17-year-old player in a recreational soccer league. The incident occured after Portillo whistled the player, who was playing goal-keeper, for a foul and issued him a yellow card. As Portillo was writing down the booking the goal-keeper punched the referee once in the side of the head. After Portillo began vomiting blood, emergency services were called and transported him to a local hospital, where he subsequently fell into the coma.

Following the incident the suspect was booked into juvenile detention on suspicion of aggravated assault. Since Portillo has passed away, authorities will now consider whether to levy heavier charges on the suspect.

Johana Portillo said she hopes to someday be able to forgive the teenager. But as of now, she can’t. As far as punishment is concerned, she thinks the teen has to answer for his actions. “I feel sorry for him. I feel for his family,” she said. “But if he was old enough to do what he did, then he’s responsible to pay for it.”

Portillo also expressed hope that her father’s death leads to more security at sporting events and better self-control from players. She claimed that before last week’s incident her father had been twice attacked by players resulting in broken ribs and legs. The incidents compelled Portillo’s daughters to beg him to stop refereeing but he told his daughters he refused citing is passion for the game.

The subject match occurred in an unaffiliated soccer league, Liga Continental de Futbol. Since his passing the league has updated its Facebook page with a tribute to Portillo and also set up a bank account to accept donations for his family.

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