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May 2, 2013

Utah soccer ref in coma after punch

MURRAY, Utah -- A longtime Utah soccer referee is in a coma after being punched by a teenage player unhappy with one of his calls during a weekend game, and his family says they're hoping for the man's miraculous recovery and want justice for him.

Ricardo Portillo, 46, has swelling in his brain and his recovery is uncertain as he remains in critical condition, Dr. Shawn Smith said Thursday at the Intermountain Medical Center in the Salt Lake City suburb of Murray.

Police say a 17-year-old player in a recreational soccer league punched Portillo after the man called a foul on him and issued him a yellow card. The teen has been booked into juvenile detention on suspicion of aggravated assault. Those charges could be amplified if Portillo dies.

The attack Saturday wasn't the first time Portillo has been assaulted by an angry player while refereeing, said his oldest daughter, Johana Portillo. He's had his ribs and leg broken before.

Smith declined to speak about what caused Ricardo Portillo's injuries or divulge his prognosis due to the ongoing police investigation. But Johana Portillo, 26, said her father might not survive.

"I know he didn't, he doesn't want to leave us," she said, crying. "We hope for a miracle that he will be OK."

Johana Portillo wasn't at the Saturday afternoon 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 after he issued the yellow card.

"When he was writing down his notes, he just came out of nowhere and punched him," she said.

His friends who were there told her Ricardo Portillo seemed fine at first, but then asked to be held because he felt dizzy. They sat him down and he started vomiting blood, triggering his friend to call an ambulance. The referee has been in a coma since Saturday.

Johana Portillo said her father's passion is soccer, and he's been a referee in the recreational league for eight years. Five years ago, a player upset with a call broke his ribs. A few years before that, a player broke his leg, she said. Other referees have been hurt, too.

"People don't know it's a game," Johana Portillo said. "We're all there to have fun, not to go and kill each other."

His daughters begged him to stop refereeing -- his second job -- but he continued because he loved soccer.

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

The league is not affiliated with the Utah Youth Soccer Association or any city or town recreation department. It is called the Liga Continental, said the referee's brother-in-law Pedro Lopez, who also gets paid to referee in the league.

Johana Portillo said the family doesn't know the teenager who threw the punch, and they haven't heard from him or anyone in his family.

Friday is Ricardo Portillo's youngest daughter's 16th birthday, and the family was planning to leave on vacation Thursday, Johana Portillo said. Instead, they have set up a bank fund in case their father dies.

"If my dad doesn't make it, we want to make his last wish come true," Johana Portillo said. "To see his family again."

She said his sisters are trying to come from Guadalajara, Mexico. The referee hadn't seen his sisters in the 16 years since he moved to Utah.

"It's just not fair," said Johana Portillo, holding back tears. "This person caused us a lot of pain. I want justice for my dad, and we're going to get it. ... If he spends time in jail forever, it's not enough. They are not going to bring my daddy back."

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