Referee punched by soccer player dies

(DETROIT FREE PRESS) - A referee who authorities said was punched by a player during a soccer game in Livonia Sunday has died.

John Bieniewicz, 44, of Westland was on the ground and unconscious when police arrived at Mies Park at 32305 West Chicago and died today, police said in a news release.

Bassel Abdul-Amir Saad, 36, of Dearborn was arraigned Monday on a felony charge of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder and received a $500,000 cash/surety bond.

"The charges will be reviewed and amended when appropriate confirmations are made and other necessary documentation is received," said Maria Miller, a spokeswoman with the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office.

Bieniewicz worked as a pediatric dialysis unit technician at Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor and was married with two young sons, ages 9 and 13, said James Acho, Bieniewicz's friend of 30 years.

"He's a fantastic human being," Acho said. "A guy who lives life to the fullest, loves children."

Bieniewicz's organs will be donated through Gift of Life and a fund has been set up to help with funeral and burial expenses and to also help his children moving forward, he said.

Bieniewicz was licensed to referee professional, collegiate, high school and rec league soccer and was very passionate about the game, often refereeing up to three games on a Saturday.

"He just absolutely lived it and loved it," Acho said.

Bassel's attorney, Brian Berry, said his client cooperated with the police investigation and voluntarily turned himself in.

"Our hearts are saddened to learn of the passing of John Bieniewicz. May God bless him and his family members as they deal with this loss," Berry said in an email to the Free Press.

"Based on certain witness statements that have not yet been published, it is believed that the facts of this case have been mischaracterized," the e-mail said. "Mr. Saad is presumed innocent unless and until a fact finder determines differently. As tragic as this event is, we must keep open minds and listen and wait for all the facts of this case to unfold."

Scott Herkes, 39, was playing in the adult soccer game Sunday and said he was about 30 yards away when he saw the referee punched by a player on the opposing team.

"It was terrifying," he said.

He said it happened as the Bieniewicz, who had stopped the game to eject Saad, was looking down, and he didn't see the punch coming.

Herkes said Saad was complaining about a call made by a referee and was issued a violation, his second in the game.

There were about 30 players at the game and a handful of spectators, many of whom saw what happened, he said.

"I have never in my life seen something like this," Herkes said.

He said the man who threw the punch fled the field after it happened, and some players got the license plate number and a description of the vehicle he left in.

"The ref did nothing to provoke this attack," he said, calling it "unfathomable" that it would happen.

A preliminary examination in the case is set for July 10 in 16th District Court in Livonia, authorities said.


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