Soccer Referee Dies After Being Punched in Head by Player

John Bieniewicz, 44, of Westland, Mich. died today from injuries he sustained after being punched in the head by a player in the soccer match he was refereeing this past weekend. Bassel Abdul-Amir Saad apparently punched Bieniewicz after he ruled to eject Saad from the game. When police arrived at the scene, Bieniewicz was unconscious and not breathing.

A witness told the Detroit Free Press that Saad punched Bieniewicz when he wasn't looking:

Scott Herkes, 39, was playing in the adult soccer match 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 Bieniewicz, who had stopped the game to eject Saad, was looking down, and he didn't see the punch coming.

According to the Associated Press, Saad was not at the park where the soccer game was held (and where he punched Bieniewicz) by the time police were at the scene. Saad turned himself in Monday. His lawyer, Brian Berry told the Detroit Free Press by email that Saad maintains his innocence.

"Based on certain witness statements that have not yet been published, it is believed that the facts of this case have been mischaracterized," Berry wrote. "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."

Bieniewicz was a dialysis technician at Mott Children's Hospital with a wife and two sons. He had refereed soccer games for two decades.

[Image via Detroit Free Press]