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Family of Utah soccer referee who died holds vigil

(AP) / 6 May 2013

Family members of a Utah soccer referee who died a week after a player punched him in the head called on athletes around the world Sunday night to hold their tempers in check so another family doesn’t have to suffer.

They spoke at a candlelight vigil held on the front lawn of the Salt Lake City home of Ricardo Portillo, 46. Wearing white shirts and holding signs that read, ‘In loving memory of Ricky,’ family and friends stood around a table that had a picture of Portillo raising his arms in victory, with flowers and candles surrounding it.

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

Portillo died Saturday night after a week in a coma.

‘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 suspect has been booked into juvenile detention on suspicion of aggravated assault. Authorities will consider additional charges since Portillo has passed away. An autopsy is planned. No cause of death was released.

Asked if she can forgive the teenager, Johana Portillo said she hopes to someday, but isn’t ready yet.

She said Sunday she doesn’t care what the punishment becomes since it won’t bring back her father. She only hopes he can’t get out and do the same thing to somebody else, she said.

‘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.’

The unaffiliated soccer league, Liga Continental de Futbol, 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.

Johana Portillo said she hopes her father’s death leads to more security at sporting events and better self-control from players. She said her father had been attacked by players twice before in his eight years refereeing soccer matches — even having his ribs and legs broken.

Ricardo Portillo’s daughters had begged him to stop refereeing in a soccer league because of the growing risk of violence from angry players. But he told his daughters he couldn’t quit.

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.

 
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