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Michigan soccer ref dies after being punched during game

Soccer Referee Attacked-1.jpg

June 29: An undated photo provided by the Livonia Police Department is of Baseel Abdul-Amir Saad. (The Associated Press)

The Michigan soccer referee critically injured this weekend after he was sucker-punched during an adult-league game died Tuesday in an area hospital.

John Bieniewicz, 44, was left in critical condition Saturday in Livonia after witnesses say he was punched in the head as he reached down for a red card.

Police said Baseel Abdul-Amir Saad punched Bieniewicz after he indicated that the 36-year-old Dearborn resident was going to be ejected. Livonia police and the Wayne County prosecutor's office have not named the referee, whom Jim Acho, a childhood friend, identified as Bieniewicz.

"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."

One witness told MyFoxDetroit.com that Bieniewicz was punched near his throat and fell without raising his arms. The death was confirmed by the hospital and a family friend.

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.

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

Saad was reportedly not at the field when police arrived. Saad surrendered Monday, police said.

The charge could be amended now that Bieniewicz has died. A message from FoxNews.com left with a spokeswoman for the Wayne County prosecutor's office was not immediately returned.

Bieniewicz was a dialysis technician with a wife and two sons, said Acho. Acho says a fund is being set up to help pay for his friend's funeral and burial expenses, as well as his children's futures.

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 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 has been a well-respected referee for two decades. He was doing what he loved on Sunday when he was attacked at Mies Park, Acho said.

MyFoxDetroit.com reported that Saad’s team has been kicked out of the league.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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