LANSING (WWJ) – A Michigan Senate committee has approved two bills that would increase penalties for those who assault sports referees.
The legislation was introduced after 44-year-old referee John Bieniewicz of Livonia was killed by a single punch to the neck during an adult league soccer game nearly three years ago.
His wife testified in support of the new legislation, along with their son, who is also a referee.
“I’ve been asked numerous times: ‘How on earth can you let your kid ref?’ Well, like he said, that was his and Dad’s thing, and it was something he wanted to do to honor Dad,” Kris Bieniewicz said.
“I wasn’t about to step in his way. If that’s what he wanted to do, I was gonna support it,” she added. “Do I worry? Oh, hell yeah. That’s without a question.”
The legislation calls for a maximum of five years in prison for anyone who assaults a referee and causes serious injury. The maximum would be two years for a lesser injury.
The bills now go to the full Senate for a vote.
“Referees, they’re out on an island. There’s nothing there to protect them, OK?” Kris Bieniewicz said. “Attacks are made on teachers, but general speaking teachers have their security in schools nowadays; there’s things to deter it.”
“Referees are out there by themselves. It’s not like they’re packing a gun. They’ve got a whistle. That’s it.”
John Bieniewicz died two days after he was struck on the field during the second half of a Michigan United Soccer League game in a Livonia park. Bassel Saad, a 37-year-old auto mechanic from Dearborn who admitted to hitting the ref, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter.
Serving a sentence of 8-15 years in prison, Saad faces deportation after time served because he is not a U.S. citizen.