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Police report details attack by player that left Utah soccer referee in coma

Published May 3, 2013 10:01 pm

Report • Soccer player upset with "yellow card" allegedly hit man, who is fighting for his life.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

It was a perfect, sunny weekend for soccer, and Ricardo Portillo was fully focused on his referee duties as the opposing teams lined up for a corner kick.

Then, as players jostled for position, he saw the goalkeeper push an opponent with his hands. Portillo lifted his "Yellow Card," issuing a warning to the 17-year-old boy. He then began writing the infraction in his official's notebook.

According to a police report, obtained Friday by The Salt Lake Tribune under the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act, the 46-year-old Portillo probably never saw the blow coming — a powerful punch to the head that would leave him in a coma and fighting for his life a week later.

Witnesses told police on April 27 that the teenage goalie — playing in his first game for the La Liga Continental de Futbol squad — was enraged by the call. He punched Portillo once. The referee went down on the field at Eisenhower Junior High School in Taylorsville, and that is where Unified Police Department officers found him lying when they responded to a 911 call about 11:40 a.m. that Saturday.

"He was laying on the ground, on his left side in a fetal position," Officer Jason Huggard wrote. "Ricardo was complaining of pain in his face, back and [of] being nauseated. ... He had spit up a small amount of blood in his saliva."

With the help of interpreters, Portillo was communicating with police and Unified Fire paramedics as they treated and questioned him. Still conscious, he was taken to Intermountain Medical Center.

Later, as his brain swelled, Portillo's condition would rapidly deteriorate. He lost consciousness and lapsed into a coma, a state he remained in late Friday — six days after the assault.

Huggard's report notes that the 17-year-old suspect had left the scene by the time officers arrived. Police learned the boy's identity from his coach, James Yapias, who provided them with a name and contact information.

"James informed me that this was the first game that [the boy] had played as a member of his team [and that] he had tried to call the phone number for [the boy's father] but had not received an answer," the report states.

Meanwhile, police traced a blue Chevrolet Cavalier — seen leaving the scene with an adult male behind the wheel and the teen suspect as a passenger — to a Salt Lake City address. City police went there, but did not find the vehicle or the suspect at the scene.

The search for the suspect became more intense when UPD was notified late on the evening of April 27 that Portillo had been downgraded to critical condition.

Moments later, Huggard wrote, Yapias contacted him. The suspect's father had called back and had agreed to take his son to police, Yapias said.

After being questioned, the boy was arrested on suspicion of assault. He was then booked into a juvenile-detention facility, where he remained Friday pending further proceedings.

On Friday, Portillo's prospects for recovery remained in question.

Thursday night, the victim's two daughters, Johana and Ana, were joined by IMC neurointensivist Shawn Smith at a news conference, where Portillo's chances for recovery were discussed. Smith said Portillo remained in a coma due to severe swelling of his brain; his prognosis will become more certain over the weekend as the medication he has been given wears off.

UPD 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 is considered a juvenile and his identity has not been released.

Mario Vasquez, the president of the soccer league, said Friday he's still in shock about what happened last Saturday to his friend Ricardo Portillo.

He says La Liga Continental de Futbol will continue holding weekend games for children and teens at a middle-school field in suburban Salt Lake City. But he says off-duty police officers will be hired for security.

Vasquez says the league was created in 2009 to provide a family-friendly place where the Hispanic community could play soccer.

But on Tuesday, Granite School District sent a written warning to Vasquez threatening to revoke the league's rental agreement for the field if its fans do not respect the privilege of using it.

The district was already planning to write Vasquez based on complaints from Eisenhower Junior High School teachers that attendees have left water bottles, sports drinks, beer cans and cigarette butts on the field.

"This situation only adds more cause to warn you in the hopes that your soccer events will be positive and civil activities," the warning concludes.

Efforts Friday to reach the boy's coach, Yapias, were not immediately successful.

Reporter Michael McFall and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

remims@sltrib.com

Twitter: @remims