STURTEVANT — A half-dozen vehicles sat outside Zachary Hinze’s parents’ house in Sturtevant on Tuesday night. More cars had come and gone throughout the day, driven by mourning, laughing young men remembering their 25-year-old friend taken too soon.
Inside the fenced backyard, a dozen friends of the late James E. Malnar II sat around, swapping animated stories of their companion while working their way through a case of Modelo beer, Malnar’s favorite.
They’re a beer-and-a-cig kind of crew, but now they’re one short.
“There are a lots of hearts dropping,” Tony Matter said.
The final Facebook profile picture of Malnar — a 2011 Case High School graduate and ironworker-to-be — shows him riding a motorcycle, which is what he was doing when he crashed Sunday.
The Racine County Sheriff’s Office reported that alcohol may have been a factor in the accident; his friends say he had been at a bar not long before the crash. Malnar was not wearing a helmet, sheriff’s officials said.
Word spread quickly. A friend had been bartending where Malnar was last seen before his final ride, letting people know that he had crashed and had been taken by Flight for Life to Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa, where he was put on life support, and where he died Monday night.
“Literally my whole Facebook feed is people talking about him and how he touched them or crossed paths with him,” friend Eric Swaba said in a message to The Journal Times. “He was the kind of guy that you would see somewhere and would want talk to. He would walk in and light up the place.”
According to the Sheriff’s Office, Malnar appeared to have lost control of the bike and ran off the road on the 17200 block of Durand Avenue, Yorkville, after 9 p.m. Sunday and was thrown from his Harley. He was found unconscious and never regained consciousness.
Another motorcycle rider, a 26-year-old male from Mount Pleasant, witnessed the crash. Through the course of the investigation, deputies arrested the witness for operating while impaired, first offense.
Stories flowed Tuesday at the Hinze house.
Jared Mathieus stood up to re-enact the late Malnar body-slamming someone, to much acclaim from his audience.
“He never instigated a fight, but never backed away from one, either,” one friend remembered.
Ross Musio talks about how Malnar would call his shot, Babe Ruth-style, in bar softball games with the JQ Foxes team, then proceed to either hit a homer or strikeout.
“It was 50-50,” Musio laughed.
Friends described Malnar as hilariously “reckless.” Impulsive, but not dangerous, like an unbreakable “bowling ball.” He became the guy who was always down to do just about anything, at just about any time of day or night.
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Never asking what the plan was, he was notorious for bumming rides. “Whose car are we going to take?” was a common statement.
In Racine Youth Sports and at Case, Malnar became the kind of hard-hitting linebacker ball carriers don’t want to run into. When he drove the lane, he turned basketball into a contact sport.
He could dead-lift more than his peers without training. Musio said he was tempted to stop working out with Malnar because he would end up laughing too much to actually lift.
“He had a lot of mass and heart,” Caleb Niesen said.
For some reason, he tried out for the diving team in high school. His brother, Justin Porter, remembers him skimming the bottom of the pool twice. He never held back.
Malnar became known as a well-practiced prank puller, candid photograph poser and Snapchat-filter master. But his two greatest loves — even more than Modelo — were his Harley and his dog, Jax.
“(Jax) was like his child,” Tyler Bjorkman said. “The dog won’t even leave its bed right now.”
When working in lawn care, Malnar would release the chipmunks and squirrels caught in traps. He pitied the helpless creatures.
A community shaken
In what ended up being his final weeks, Malnar had reportedly been turning a more mature corner. He’d started eating more healthily and been growing closer with his brother. He was on a waiting list to join an ironworkers union and hoped to work at Foxconn if a job in construction opened up.
Niesen frets about missing an opportunity to get a picture of Malnar holding Niesen’s newborn son the weekend previous. Of course, none of them foresaw the upcoming tragedy.
The morning before his crash, Malnar had posted a photo on Snapchat of him at church with the caption, “Getting right with God.”
“Ain’t that weird?” Dylan Waege said; Malnar wasn’t the churchgoing type.
“He was making a change in his life,” Niesen said. “It was just odd.”
The day before his death, he had chatted with Joey House about future plans and their fantasy baseball league — Malnar was primed to upset the league leader this week.
Hinze, who had known Malnar since sixth grade at Starbuck Middle School, initially described himself as Malnar’s best friend, but then pulled back. No one was Malnar’s singular No. 1.
The rest of the circle echoes the sentiment. They consider their mutually close friendships, even after losing Malnar’s laugh, “abnormal.”
“We all aren’t friends,” Hinze said. “We’re family.”
“He was the kind of guy that you would see somewhere and would want talk to. He would walk in and light up the place.” Eric Swaba, friend of motorcycle crash victim James Malnar II