Utah soccer referee left in coma after attack by teenage player

Reuters News
Posted: May 03, 2013 7:12 PM

By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) - A Utah soccer referee who suffered head injuries when he was punched in the face by a teenage player remained hospitalized in a coma on Friday, almost a week after the incident.

A 17-year-old player struck the referee, Ricardo Portillo, in the head on Saturday after Portillo penalized the teenager during a soccer game in a Salt Lake City suburb, said Justin Hoyal, a lieutenant with the Unified Police of Greater Salt Lake.

The player, whose name was withheld because he is a juvenile, was upset because Portillo had issued him a yellow card, Hoyal said. A yellow card is a caution for actions that range from a foul to unsportsmanlike conduct.

Portillo, 46, of Salt Lake City, was taken by ambulance to a hospital to be treated for what was initially believed to be minor injuries. It was later determined that Portillo had suffered more substantial head trauma.

He lapsed into a coma and has remained in "extremely critical condition" at Intermountain Medical Center in a Salt Lake City suburb, said Hoyal.

The teenager is being held at a juvenile detention facility on suspicion of aggravated assault, a felony. The player is expected to be formally charged next week, Hoyal said.

"It's a real sad situation," Hoyal said. "It's important to remember that these are games, that sportsmanship is everything and that when you let your temper take over, a tragedy like that can happen."

Portillo's daughter, Johana Portillo, told a news conference on Thursday that the player "just came out of nowhere" and punched her father.

"I know if he spends time in jail, like forever, it's not enough," she said. "It's not going to bring my daddy back."

Officials with the American Youth Soccer Organization, the nation's largest soccer association for players aged 4 to 18, said they did not know of another such incident in the history of youth soccer in the United States.

Portillo was refereeing a match put on by a league called La Liga Continental, which is not affiliated with the American Youth Soccer Organization.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Edith Honan; Editing by Peter Cooney)