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Family of soccer ref allegedly hit by player hoping for 'a miracle'

Published May 3, 2013 10:51 am

As the 46-year-old struggles for his life, the player, 17, is under arrest on suspicion of aggravated assault.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Murray • Ricardo Portillo was supposed to be with his youngest daughter for her 16th birthday Friday.

Instead, his eldest daughter Johana Portillo said, their father remains in a coma a week after a 17-year-old soccer player allegedly punched him during a match he was refereeing. The teen was apparently upset with a call.

"This is really hard … it is destroying our whole family," said Johana Portillo, 26, during a news conference at Intermountain Medical Center on Thursday. "This person caused us a lot of pain, for his daughters. ... We hope for a miracle that he'll be OK."

Johana Portillo said the player, whom she doesn't know, punched her 46-year-old father on the side of the head while he was taking notes after handing the player a yellow card during a soccer match Saturday. Feeling dizzy, Portillo sat down and began vomiting blood. The paramedics were called and Portillo, who lives in Salt Lake City, was taken to the hospital from the field at Eisenhower Junior High School in Taylorsville.

The player was arrested Monday on suspicion of aggravated assault but has not been charged. The alleged assault remains under investigation.

Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal said the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office will review the case and decide whether the youth could be charged as an adult. Until then, the suspect — in custody at a youth detention facility — is considered a juvenile and his identity has not been released.

"I just want justice for my dad and we're gonna get it," Johana Portillo said. She added that if the player spends the rest of his life imprisoned, "it's not going to bring my daddy back."

Portillo said this is the third time her father has been injured while refereeing a soccer match. Five years ago, players broke his ribs, and three years earlier broke his leg, she said.

"People get involved," Johana Portillo said. "It's not fair. We're there to have fun, not kill each other."

When asked if aggression occurs regularly at the games, Portillo nodded.

Intermountain's neurointensivist Shawn Smith said Portillo has swelling on his brain. He said Ridardo Portillo's prognosis will be more certain in the next few days, after medication he has been given wears off.

Smith was unable to speak specifically about how a punch could put Portillo in the state he is in, but in general, he said for some people, seemingly minor injuries could become devastating. "It's terrifying, but we see that."

Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley has said the Fut Continental soccer club is listed as having reserved the field at the time of the incident. The Utah Youth Soccer Association does not list the Fut Continental club as one of its sanctioned member teams.

Portillo could spend a whole weekend at the soccer fields — it was his passion, Johana Portillo said.

Ricardo Portillo's brother-in-law Pedro Lopez, who also referees games, couldn't be there the day of the alleged assault and feels guilty that he wasn't around to help him, said Johana Portillo. But she and her sisters keep assuring him that their father's injury was not his fault.

Johana Portillo teared up and held her sister Ana's hand as she considered what to say about her father. After a long pause, she said that he loves his daughters, has always been there for them and he loves soccer.

"I know he doesn't want to leave us," Johana Portillo said. He was excited about a vacation they were supposed to go on soon.

But if he doesn't make it, his family wants to fulfill his wish that his body be sent back to Mexico. Portillo moved to Utah with his family about 16 years ago. Portillo's family has set up an account at Chase Bank under Johana Portillo's name for anyone who wants to help.

mmcfall@sltrib.comTwitter: @mikeypanda