‘Walking Man’ critically injured after doused with flammable liquid and set on fire on Lower Wabash Avenue

Joseph Kromelis, 75 — a homeless man well-known for walking the streets of the Loop — suffered third-degree burns over 65% of his body.

SHARE ‘Walking Man’ critically injured after doused with flammable liquid and set on fire on Lower Wabash Avenue
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A burn mark on a garage door near the scene where Joseph Kromelis was set on fire Wednesday morning in the 400 block of North Wabash.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

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.

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Joseph Kromelis

Sun-Times Media

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.

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Image of person suspected of setting fire to Joseph Kromelis. Picture was taken from a CTA Blue Line security camera.

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 law 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 for cuts and other injuries to his head and legs. Thousands of dollars were raised on his behalf through GoFundMe appeals.

Janice Riggs launched a GoFundMe campaign for Kromelis in 2016 and was “utterly horrified” when she learned of the latest attack.

“It’s bad enough that we have people who sleep under Wacker Drive every night,” she said. “But the idea that there are people walking the streets of Chicago right now that think that setting a man on fire is a fun pastime or a worthwhile thing to do is — abhorrent doesn’t even come close, it’s inhumane.”

Riggs did not know Kromelis personally but was always happy to see him out and about in the city. “It didn’t matter where you were in the city, you’d run into him somewhere,” Riggs said. “He was a fixture, he was part of our lives.”

Relatives 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.

Kromelis stayed in Chicago, where he got a peddler's 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.”

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