A homeless man well-known for walking the streets of the Loop was critically injured when he was set on fire while sleeping on Lower Wabash Avenue early Wednesday –almost six years to the day after he was viciously beaten in downtown Chicago.
Joseph Kromelis, 75 — known as “The Walking Man” and “The Walking Dude” — was lying on the ground in the 400 block of North Lower Wabash when someone walked up, poured a flammable liquid on him and lit it, police said.
A security officer from a nearby building used a fire extinguisher to put the fire out. Kromelis suffered third-degree burns to 65% of his body and was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in critical condition.
The attacker was seen on surveillance video going to the Clark and Lake CTA station and taking a Blue Line train toward O’Hare. An alert issued by police Wednesday afternoon described the suspect as a tall male with a medium light complexion and wearing a black and white “Hoodrich” jacket and gray sandals.
Chicago Police Department
Officials said Kromelis suffered severe burns and his chances of surviving them were not considered good.
“We were just told he’s most likely to die,” one late enforcement source said. He was identified through prescriptions found in his pocket.
Kromelis is well known to people who frequent downtown Chicago, easily recognized by his tall frame, striking facial features, long flowing hair and bushy mustache.
Six years ago — on May 24, 2016 — he was brutally beaten by someone with a baseball bat in the 400 block of East Lower Wacker Drive.The two were struggling over the bat when police arrived.
He was taken to Northwestern then too and was treated cuts and other injuries to his head and legs. Thousands of dollars were raised on his behalf through GoFundMe appeals.
His family said he moved to Chicago with his family from Lithuania when he was a kid and grew up above a bar his parents ran on Halsted Street. His parents sold the tavern and moved to southwestern Michigan when he was about 19.
The man stayed in Chicago, where he got a peddlers license and sold jewelry on the street and began wandering the streets of the Loop.
“We always worried … because he was on the street all the time,” his sister-in-law said at the time. “He just likes walking.”