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'He didn’t want to leave this earth': Barnegat dad who turned life around dies at 42

By Jerry Carino, Asbury Park Press,

2023-03-15
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The hardest part of Max Malick’s journey seemed to be behind him.

After serving six months in prison for his involvement in a cocaine-dealing ring, the Barnegat resident vowed to start anew as a single father raising three children. It was a struggle at first, but after an outpouring of help from Asbury Park Press readers, Malick and his kids moved into a townhouse in 2017.

By multiple accounts he stayed true to his word, working as a contractor and mason and guiding his children through school. That came to a tragic halt Saturday when his youngest child, 13-year-old Devon, found him unconscious on the living-room floor.

“He (Devon) came to my house and said, ‘Dad’s on the floor, the TV is knocked over and I can’t get him up,” said Diane Malick, Max’s mother, who lives within walking distance. She hurried over, saw Max wasn’t breathing and had gone cold, and called for an ambulance. He was pronounced dead at age 42.

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An autopsy has been conducted but the results won’t be known for a few weeks.

“He had bad asthma, and Friday night had a bad asthma attack,” Diane Malick said. “He also was having a problem with his leg being swollen. He might have had a blood clot or a circulation problem.”

Regarding whether there was a potential drug relapse, Diane Malick said, “he was clean for a long time.”

Paul Hulse, an advocate for Ocean County’s homeless and home-insecure who helped get Malick on his feet in 2017, had stayed in touch and saw no signs of drug-related problems.

“It was inspirational to see his courage and work ethic,” Hulse said. “He really cared about his kids. He was a good father, and I loved that he got the second chance he deserved. He’d been living in the same place we’d gotten for him, which speaks volumes about his ability to hold his home.

“This is so sad to see.”

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A turning point

When Hulse first encountered Malick, the circumstances were not ideal. Malick and his three kids, then ages 7 through 13, had converted the dining room in Diane Malick’s home into a bedroom, where all four of them slept. Four years removed from prison, Max was making $11 an hour as a landscaper. The children’s mother was out of the picture, and he was determined to make amends by raising them right — but lacked the means.

“I want to make sure they do good in school and keep a positive attitude, because I don’t want them to wake up one day being 35 and making the same mistakes I did,” Malick said at the time. “My heart breaks that these kids have to struggle like this because of the mistakes I made.”

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Hulse, whose nonprofit Just Believe Inc. has aided numerous people in Malick’s situation, suggested going public with the story. After the Asbury Park Press chronicled the family’s plight, readers immediately donated $2,000 in cash and another $1,000 in gifts and gift cards. And the Van Dyk Group — an Ocean County real estate and insurance agency — helped Malick and find a two-bedroom home in Barnegat that they could afford.

On the living room wall, next to the front door, Malick hung a framed Asbury Park Press front page displaying the original article about his family.

“It’s a reminder every time I walk out this door how this story changed my life,” he said. “It marks the past and summarizes the future we have together in our wonderful new home, thanks to the generous support of all the people out there who reached out and helped us.”

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'His kids were his world'

Hulse helped Malick stay the course financially until he was on his feet with a regular job.

“He was straight and back on track and doing well,” Diane Malick said. “He had a tough road, but he was coming through.”

She said Malick’s oldest two children, 19-year-old Keyera and 18-year-old Marcus, are currently staying with family members and friends. She’s taken Devon, who is in eighth grade, into her custody. Their mother died last year.

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A GoFundMe campaign to cover the cost of Malick’s funeral raised $5,000 within the first day (it can be found with the keywords “Funeral costs for Max Malick” at www.GoFundMe.com).

“His kids were his world,” Diane Malick said. “I know he didn’t want to leave this earth yet.”

Jerry Carino is community columnist for the Asbury Park Press, focusing on the Jersey Shore’s interesting people, inspiring stories and pressing issues. Contact him at jcarino@gannettnj.com.

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