The Washington Post

Soccer referee declared dead after being punched during adult-league match

A soccer referee whom police said was punched in the head by a player during an adult-league match in Michigan has been declared brain dead.

John Bieniewicz, a 44-year-old man from Westland, Mich., was declared brain dead Tuesday morning after allegedly being struck by a player he had ejected Sunday in the match in Livonia, Mich. Bassel Abdul-Amir Saad, 36, of Dearborn, Mich., was arrested and arraigned Monday on a felony charge of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder. “The charges will be reviewed and amended when appropriate confirmations are made and other necessary documentation is received,” Maria Miller, a spokeswoman with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, said (via

Bieniewicz, the lead medical assistant in the Pediatric Chronic Dialysis unit at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, never regained consciousness and has been on a ventilator until his organs could be donated, a longtime friend of his told the Freep. Bieniewicz, who has a wife and two children, refereed games frequently. “He just absolutely lived it and loved it,” James Acho, his friend of 30 years, told the Freep.

The attack, which was described by player Scott Herkes as “terrifying,” occurred after the ref had stopped the game to eject Saad and Bieniewicz didn’t see the punch coming. Saad, Herkes said, was protesting a second violation that resulted in his ejection. According to Herkes, the man who punched Bieniewicz left the field and players got his vehicle’s license plate number.

Brian Berry, the attorney for Saad, said his client was cooperating.

“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

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

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.
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