Two weeks ago, Mecklenburg prosecutor Max Diaz was diagnosed with a rare and galloping brain tumor.
Wednesday night, the 40-year-old husband, father and assistant district attorney died at Duke University Medical Center. Services will be 2 p.m. Sunday at Davidson United Methodist Church.
Diaz worked for the DA’s office in Charlotte for 12 years, earning a reputation as a passionate prosecutor who also made friends wherever he went, says longtime colleague Jay Ashendorf.
He started handling misdemeanor crimes and worked his way up to homicides. Last fall, he took over supervision of the office’s domestic-violence team.
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Colleagues say Diaz brought an intensity to all his duties. In court, he sometimes gave the appearance of being fully immersed in the details and significance of his case, cut off from the distractions of the outside world.
“In the courtroom, he wanted justice. Period,” said Ashendorf, who tried at least one murder case with Diaz and talked to him by phone on the night he entered the hospital.
There was also this: “He loved being around people. Max was likeable to everybody he came in contact with,” Ashendorf said.
District Attorney Andrew Murray says Diaz’s feel for others made him a better legal advocate.
“His closing arguments on behalf of homicide victims could bring tears to courtroom observers’ eyes,” Murray said in a Facebook post announcing Diaz’s death. “When he met domestic violence victims and advocates, he spoke with conviction about the need to … end the cycle of violence.”
Outside the courtroom, Diaz was equally passionate about his wife, Jennifer, and their 2-year-old young, Adam, N.C. State athletics and classic rock music. He picked up the electric bass guitar a few years ago, and Ashendorf says he and his younger colleague would meet for jam sessions and a playlist heavy on The Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters and Tom Petty. Sometimes others would join in. More often, the two homicide prosecutors would wail away at the instruments by themselves.
Diaz was born in Puerto Rico and immigrated to North Carolina as a boy with the rest of his family. He graduated from N.C. State and then UNC Law, joining the DA’s office under Peter Gilchrist in 2005.
Earlier this month, Diaz was hit by the sudden appearance of disturbing medical symptoms, Ashendorf said. He was taken to the Presbyterian Hospital emergency room on May 13. The diagnosis: Glioblastoma Multiforme, a rare form of highly aggressive brain cancer. He was soon transferred to Duke.
Friends and co-workers have started a GoFundMe site to help Diaz’s family with his medical expenses and other costs. Through Ashendorf, Diaz’s loved ones emphasized the need for more research and education about Glioblastoma and all forms of cancer. They also wanted to thank all the doctors and nurses who were with the prosecutor in his final days.
That would be in keeping with how Diaz lived his life.
“He had that rare quality,” Ashendorf said. “If you knew him, you liked him.”