Family mourns Utah soccer referee's death
Johana Portillo-Lopez believes that someday, she will be able to forgive.
"I will, but not today," she said Sunday at a family vigil for her father, Ricardo Portillo. "Not right now. It's too soon."
Portillo, 46, a volunteer soccer referee, was removed from life support and died Saturday after spending nearly a week in a coma triggered by injuries he suffered when a 17-year-old player allegedly hit him in the head during a game.
"He's in God's hands right now," Johana Portillo-Lopez said.
The teen boy accused of punching Portillo remained in juvenile custody Sunday. The boy's identity has not been released, and no charges have been filed.
The case is expected to be reviewed by the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office this week, said Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal. An autopsy is pending.
About three dozen family and friends most wearing bright white shirts gathered in front of the Portillo family's Salt Lake City home Sunday evening to remember the man they loved. Flowers and candles encircled a framed photograph of Portillo, his arms thrown into the air as if he were celebrating a victory on the field.
"You would just love him when you met him. He was outgoing, a happy person, he never had bad feelings for anybody," Portillo-Lopez said of her father. A funeral service is planned for Wednesday afternoon. Portillo's body will be returned to Mexico for burial, as per his final wish, his daughter said.
Portillo came to the United States from Guadalajara, Mexico, 17 years ago and worked on the production line of a local mattress factory, his family said. He is survived by three daughters, three grandchildren, numerous siblings and other relatives.
A soccer player since childhood, Portillo began volunteering as a ref eight years ago and wouldn't give up the game, even though he had been injured in tussles with players twice before, suffering broken ribs and a broken leg.
"It was his passion," Portillo-Lopez said.
According to a police report, the assault on the amateur referee took place April 27 at a recreational youth match at Eisenhower Junior High School in Taylorsville. As players jostled for position, Portillo saw the goalkeeper for La Liga Continental de Futbol push an opponent with his hands.
Portillo displayed his yellow card, issuing a warning to the player. The referee then began writing the infraction in his official's notebook.
According to the police report, Portillo probably never saw the blow coming a powerful punch to the head. Police arrested the goalie two days after the incident.
Witnesses told police the teen was playing in his first game for the La Liga Continental de Futbol squad.
The squad canceled its scheduled games Sunday in light of Portillo's death. Portillo was a volunteer ref with the league.
Mario Vazquez, head of the league, said in an interview Sunday that he met briefly with team members about Portillo.
"We prayed for him and spread the word," Vazquez said.
Officials with Real Salt Lake, Utah's professional soccer team, tweeted condolences Sunday.
"Cannot comprehend the actions that led to loss of an amateur referee's life," the organization wrote on its Twitter account.
At a news conference last week, doctors who treated Portillo at Intermountain Medical Center said the blow to the ref's head caused swelling on his brain but couldn't say specifically how a seemingly minor injury could become so devastating.
After Portillo was hit, witnesses said he dropped to the ground and had vomited blood before he was rushed to the hospital.
Portillo-Lopez last saw her father in the emergency room, just before doctors began to administer his care.
"I held his hand and he pressed my hand really hard," she said, tears streaming down her face. "I was like, 'Daddy, we're going to be OK.' And he started crying and said, 'No.' That's the last time I saw him conscious."
The family donated Portillo's organs to patients awaiting transplants, something Portillo would have wanted, his daughter said.
"We had to do something good," Portillo-Lopez, told The Salt Lake Tribune early Sunday. "I'm peaceful right now. He's going to help other people."
But the family also hopes the sports community will find a lesson in Portillo's death and act to make sure such incidents never happen again.
"This has to be serious. They have to do something about it," Portillo-Lopez said. "We always have to wait until something happens, some tragedy, so they do something about it. But it happened to us, it happened to my dad. I just don't want other families to suffer as we have been suffering."
Volunteer soccer coach James Yapias, who has known Portillo for many years, said the community should work hand-in-hand with police to improve safety and instill in young players the balance between competition and sportsmanship.
"I think we need to teach our kids that in a split second things can change a life," said Yapias, who coached the teen accused of punching Portillo. "We need to talk to our kids about being non-violent. Talk to them about sportsmanship. Talk to them about respecting referees. This, across the board impacts every one of us."
Recovering from the loss of her father will be hard, Portillo-Lopez said.
"But I know he's going to help us," she said.
She said she feels sorry for the teen, whose split-second decision to lash out altered so many lives, but wants him held responsible.
"I just want this person to know that when he did that, he took part of me. He took my daddy away from me," she said. "Whatever he gets, it's not going to bring my dad back. I really don't care about the punishment. I just don't want him to do it again."
Tribune reporter Sean P. Means contributed to this article.
Donations can be sent to Chase Bank, account number 2957138383, in the name of Ricardo Portillo.