Family of Utah soccer referee who died calls on players to control tempers Print
Written by Associated Press   
Monday, 06 May 2013 14:22

SALT LAKE CITY — 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.

Mario Vazquez, the league president who also was a friend and worked with Portillo, said Sunday everyone in the league had the greatest respect for him. He had a great sense of humor and loved refereeing, he said. The league plans to honor him with a tribute at next Saturday's games.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Portillo family during this difficult time. Ricardo will always be with us," he said.

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.

Pedro Lopez, his brother-in-law and a fellow soccer referee, called on soccer players worldwide to respect referees and remember it's a sport meant to relieve stress — not cause pain.

"Remember that we are human beings, and we make mistakes," Lopez said in Spanish. "Don't take justice into your own hands."

The former professional soccer player said he plans to continue working as a referee. He said leaving it behind would be abandoning his passion. He said he'll do so remembering Ricardo Portillo.

The incident follows only months after 41-year-old linesman Richard Nieuwenhuizen was attacked by two 15-year-olds and a 16-year-old during a match, also falling into a coma and passing away the next day.