John Bieniewicz: Adult-league soccer referee dies after being punched during match

DETROIT (AP) -- A man who was punched in the head over the weekend while refereeing an adult-league soccer match died Tuesday, authorities and a longtime friend of the referee said.

John Bieniewicz, who was attacked Sunday at a park in Livonia, died at Detroit Receiving Hospital, said hospital spokesman Alton Gunn, Livonia police and the man's longtime friend, Jim Acho.

Bieniewicz, 44, was a dialysis technician at Mott Children's Hospital who lived in Westland with his wife and two sons, said Acho, who was a classmate of Bieniewicz's at Catholic Central High School.

"I speak for all his friends when I say we are devastated. Crushed. Just a senseless way for a great guy to go out," Acho said. "He deserved better."

According to Acho, Bieniewicz was the only student-athlete in the class of 1988 to letter in both football and basketball at the ultra-competitive Detroit-area parochial school. Acho, who ran a basketball camp with Bieniewicz for four years after high school, said his 6-foot-5 friend would "wow the kids with dunks."

But much to the surprise of his friends, Bieniewicz gravitated to soccer and fell in love with the sport. He had been a well-respected referee for two decades.

"His friends love him. He lives life to the fullest. Never has a bad day. Ever," Acho said earlier Tuesday.

Bieniewicz was doing what he loved on Sunday when he was attacked at Mies Park, Acho said.

Livonia police Lt. Tom Goralski said Baseel Abdul-Amir Saad punched Bieniewicz in the head after the referee indicated he planned to eject the 36-year-old Dearborn resident from the game.

Saad was arraigned Monday in Livonia District Court on a charge of assault with intent to do great bodily harm. Bond was set at $500,000, and a probable-cause hearing was set for July 10.

Saad's lawyer, Brian Berry, said his client was cooperating with police and was not guilty of the charge.

"As the case progresses we expect to learn the cause of the referee's injuries," Berry said.

Saad was not at the field when police arrived, Goralski said. The lieutenant said Saad surrendered Monday.

The charge could be amended now that Bieniewicz has died. A message was left with a spokeswoman for the Wayne County prosecutor's office.

The Livonia Police Department said it expressed its deepest sympathy to Bieniewicz's family. Acho said a fund was being set up to help pay for his friend's funeral and burial expenses as well as his children's futures. Bieniewicz's organs were being donated, Acho said.

Violence is not unheard of in soccer and other sports. The recorded telephone message at the National Association of Sports Officials in Racine, Wisconsin, says, "For NASO insurance or assault information, press 3."

In April 2013, a 17-year-old player punched referee Ricardo Portillo after being called for a foul during a soccer game in Taylorsville, Utah, near Salt Lake City. Portillo, a father of three, died after a week in a coma. The teen pleaded guilty to a homicide charge.

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Associated Press writer David N. Goodman in Detroit contributed to this report.


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