MIKE HOUSEHOLDER, Associated Press
LIVONIA (AP) — The death of a referee who was punched at a Detroit-area soccer match has been ruled a homicide, according to an autopsy conducted Thursday.
John Bieniewicz died of blunt force trauma to the neck, said Mary Mazur, a spokeswoman for the Wayne County medical examiner’s office. Bieniewicz, 44, died Tuesday, two days after Livonia police say he was attacked during an adult-league game.
Prosecutors have charged Baseel Abdul-Amir Saad with assault with intent to do great bodily harm. But they say the charges against the 36-year-old Dearborn man are being reviewed and could be amended in light of Bieniewicz’s death.
Saad, an auto mechanic who has been playing soccer for 16 years in the area, is not guilty of the charges, defense lawyer Brian Berry said.
The attack on Bieniewicz came during the second half of an over-30 men’s Michigan United Soccer League game, said Scott Herkes, who plays for and manages the Metro Rangers, one of the teams playing that day.
Earlier in the game, Bieniewicz had presented a yellow, or caution, card to the person who later attacked him, because of a hard foul, Herkes said. Ten or 15 minutes had passed in the second half, Herkes said, when Bieniewicz made the decision to eject the same Bintjbeil Stars player, who had been verbally abusing the referee.
Herkes said Bieniewicz again showed the player a yellow card. Under soccer rules, a second yellow card issued in the same game equals a red card, meaning the player is to be ejected.
Bieniewicz reached into his pocket, and was in the process of producing the red card when the player punched him, Herkes said.
“You see a lot of guys who are hotheads on the field,” said Herkes, a 39-year-old from Lake Orion who played club soccer in college and in adult leagues for years. “Every now and again, you find a guy who has temper issues, but I’ve never seen anything to this level.”
“It’s a game, people. Hold your temper,” Herkes said.
He said the Metro Rangers are contemplating how to honor Bieniewicz during their next game on July 13 at the same field, Mies Park.
Other soccer players, referees and those with no connection to the sport have been part of an outpouring of support since Sunday’s attack.
Two funds have been set up to help with funeral expenses and for Bieniewicz’s family. One, set up by friends, had raised $90,000 as of Thursday afternoon. The other is through Huntington Bank.
Major League Soccer referees wore black armbands in honor of Bieniewicz during two games on Wednesday and will do so for games through this weekend, said Peter Walton, general manager of the Professional Referee Organization.
A soccer club in the Detroit suburb of Canton Township is going to sell bracelets that read “Respect the Game: John Bieniewicz,” and at least two local eateries are planning fundraisers for later this month.
Family friend Jim Acho said the U.S. Soccer Federation has pledged $5,000, and organizations representing officials in the four main North American professional sports leagues are giving as well.
Bieniewicz, who worked in the pediatric dialysis unit at an area children’s hospital, also gave on Thursday, Acho said. His friend’s heart, kidneys, liver, lungs and intestines “went to five people who needed” the life-saving organs, he said.
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