DETROIT (CBS Detroit/AP) – A hospital and a longtime friend say a man who was punched while refereeing an adult-league soccer match has died.

Detroit Receiving Hospital spokesman Alton Gunn and friend and attorney Jim Acho confirm that 44-year-old John Bieniewicz died Tuesday morning.

Police said the referee was punched after indicating he would eject a player from the game Sunday afternoon, at Mies Park in the 3200-block of West Chicago Road in Livonia.

Bassel Abdul-Amir Saad (credit: Wayne County Prosecutor's Office)

Bassel Abdul-Amir Saad (credit: Livonia Police Department)

Bassel Abdul-Amir Saad, 36, of Dearborn, has been charged in the attack.

“It is alleged that Saad became upset and punched the referee in the head,” the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office said in a release.

Saad was arraigned in 16th District Court in Livonia Tuesday on a charge of assault with intent to do great bodily harm.

That charge is expected to be amended following Bieniewicz’s death.

A spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office said they’ll review the case and amend the charges “when appropriate confirmations are made and other necessary documentation is received.”

Meantime, Saad is being held on a  $500,000 cash/surety bond with his next court date set for July 10.

Saad’s lawyer, Brian Berry, said his client — who turned himself in to authorities on Monday — 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.

Bieniewicz was a dialysis technician at Mott Children’s Hospital who lived in the Detroit suburb of 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.”

Bieniewicz, Acho said, 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. He had been a well-respected referee for two decades.
Another friend, Anthony Arrington, said he would often seek Bieniewicz’s advice when coaching his sons’ youth soccer teams.

“We have a special bond,” said Arrington, who added that Bieniewicz’s passion for soccer spurred members of their group of friends to watch the World Cup in Brazil.

“Just heartbroken. Just a good person, good family man,” Arrington said.

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

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.”

Barry Mano – the president and founder of NASO, which has 21,000 dues-paying members in sports ranging from football and soccer to rodeo and water polo – said his group spends 20 percent of its time on assault and liability-related issues, up from around 3 percent 20 years ago.

“When we’re unhappy with sports officials, irrespective if the calls are right or wrong, the idea that we believe that we can go smack somebody because we’re unhappy is disturbing,” he said.

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.

It’s part of a worrying trend, Mano said.

“We have trouble getting men and women and young people to come into refereeing. No duh. This is the reason why,” he said.

TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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