Soccer referee attacked by teen player and critically injured, cops say

Posted at 9:03 PM, Apr 29, 2013
and last updated 2013-04-30 00:22:53-04

TAYLORSVILLE, Utah -- A soccer referee has been critically injured after being attacked by a 17-year-old player angry about a call made during the game, police said.

The 46-year-old man was injured Saturday morning while officiating a game being played in the fields behind Eisenhower Jr. High at 4400 South Redwood Road, Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal said.

"He's upset about that call that the referee made, and turns and immediately strikes that referee in the face," he told FOX 13.

The referee was transported to the hospital by ambulance with what police initially believed were "minor injuries." Upon further examination, the injuries were much more severe -- caused by a single punch to the face.

"Once he got to the hospital, they found he had more serious injuries, head injuries as a result of that assault," Hoyal said.

On Monday afternoon, the 17-year-old player was booked into a juvenile detention facility on suspicion of aggravated assault. Depending on what happens to the victim, charges could rise to adult-level charges.

"It's one of those reminders that it's a game. It's not worth inflicting injury to someone over a game," said Hoyal.

It's a sentiment shared by Andrew Hiatt, the CEO of the Utah Youth Soccer Association.

"It's just awful," he told FOX 13. "It's just everything that's wrong with youth sports and with being a poor sport."

Hiatt said Saturday's game was not one organized by UYSA, nor was the referee one of theirs. However, he said that with the increasing popularity of soccer in Utah, they have seen an increase in competitiveness and emotion. UYSA, he said, tries to emphasize good sportsmanship and takes a zero-tolerance approach to referee abuse.

Physically assaulting a referee could land the player and others up to a year's suspension and other disciplinary measures.

"We teach the fact that you live to play another day," Hiatt said. "Calls in life aren't always going to go for you."

The Unified Police Department said Monday it was seeking video and witnesses to the referee's assault. Anyone with information is urged to call 801-743-5913.