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US referee punched by player dies

A recreational league soccer referee who slipped into a coma after being punched by a teenage player during a game a week ago has died, US police said.

Ricardo Portillo, 46, of Salt Lake City, Utah, died at the hospital where he was being treated following an assault, police spokesman Justin Hoyal said.

Police have accused a 17-year-old player in a recreational soccer league of punching Mr Portillo after the man gave a foul against him and issued a yellow card.

"The suspect was close to Portillo and punched him once in the face as a result of the call," Mr Hoyal said in a press release.

The teenager has been booked into juvenile detention on suspicion of aggravated assault. Mr Hoyal said authorities will consider additional charges since Mr Portillo has died. He said a post-mortem examination is planned. No cause of death was released.

Mr Portillo suffered swelling in his brain and had been listed in critical condition, Dr Shawn Smith said on Thursday at the Intermountain Medical Centre in the Salt Lake City suburb of Murray.

The victim's family, who publicly spoke of Mr Portillo's plight during the week, has asked for privacy, Mr Hoyal said. Last week, Johana Portillo, 26, spoke about her father's condition. She said that she was not at the April 27 game, but said she has been told by witnesses and detectives that the player hit her father in the side of the head after he issued the yellow card. "When he was writing down his notes, he just came out of nowhere and punched him," she said.

Accounts from a police report, Mr Portillo's daughter and others further detail what occurred. The teenager was playing in goal during a game at Eisenhower Junior High School in Taylorsville when Mr Portillo issued him a yellow card for pushing an opposing forward trying to score a goal.

The teenager began arguing with the referee, then unleashed a punch to his face. Mr Portillo seemed fine at first, then asked to be held because he felt dizzy. He sat down and started vomiting blood, triggering his friend to call an ambulance.

Mr Portillo's family said he had been attacked before, and Ms Portillo said she and her sisters begged their father to stop refereeing because of the risk from angry players, but he continued because he loved soccer. "It was his passion," she said. "We could not tell him no."

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