Soccer referee’s family asks for prayers, seeks justice

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MURRAY -- As she keeps vigil in the hospital where her father lays in a coma, Johana Portillo has a request.

"Please," she said, holding back tears. "Pray for my father."

Ricardo Portillo remained hospitalized on Thursday in extremely critical condition with a severe brain injury. Unified Police said he was attacked by a 17-year-old player who punched him in the face, after Portillo issued a yellow-card for a play.

"It's just not fair!" Johana cried. "He was a really loved person. Everybody loves him!"

Portillo's daughters said they were struggling to comprehend what happened to him and why it had to happen in the first place.

"This person caused us a lot of pain," she told reporters at a news conference at Intermountain Medical Center on Thursday. "A lot for his daughters. We'll just have to wait and wait, and we hope for a miracle that he'll be OK."

Portillo was officiating a game of the Liga de Continental Utah at Eisenhower Jr. High in Taylorsville on Saturday. Police said he gave the 17-year-old boy a yellow-card. Johana said that as her father was writing down his notes, the boy punched him on the side of the head.

Portillo initially thought he was alright, she said, but complained of being dizzy and asked for help.

"As soon as they set him down, he started vomiting blood and he started going into shock and that's when they called the ambulance," Johana said.

Portillo's condition worsened.

"He is in a coma right now," said his physician, Dr. Shawn Smith.

Smith described the swelling in the brain and the steps that medical teams have taken to save Portillo. Smith said Portillo remains in critical condition. He refused to offer a prognosis, citing the ongoing criminal investigation into the assault.

Portillo's daughters said he was always passionate about soccer. He had been a referee for some time, putting up with unruly fans and players. In past games, he had suffered broken ribs and a broken leg while refereeing. Even at the pleadings of his three daughters, he wouldn't give it up.

His brother-in-law, Pedro Lopez, expressed guilt that he was not there on Saturday, officiating with Portillo. Ana Portillo said she has seen out-of-control people at soccer matches before. The family said people need to remember, it's a game.

"They get upset 'cause they get called out for it," Ana said. "We've seen a lot of people get mad about it."

The teenage boy who hit Portillo is in a juvenile detention facility on suspicion of aggravated assault. What kind of formal criminal charges he faces -- either in the juvenile or adult court system -- will depend on whether Portillo lives or dies.

"If he spends time in jail, like forever, it's not enough," Johana said. "They're not going to bring my daddy back. But I just don't want him to get out and do it again. I don't want him to hurt another (person). I don't want another family to go through the same thing as we are right now. For me? I want him in jail forever."

An account has been set up to help the family of Ricardo Portillo. The account is at Chase Bank in Johana Portillo's name.

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