‘Walking Man’ was burned alive for 3 minutes. Attacker offers no motive other than he’s an ‘angry person,’ prosecutors say

Detectives used surveillance video to track the suspected attacker from downtown Chicago to Melrose Park. A police officer who knew him since childhood alerted authorities after he saw a public bulletin.

SHARE ‘Walking Man’ was burned alive for 3 minutes. Attacker offers no motive other than he’s an ‘angry person,’ prosecutors say
Walking Man in 2011 in the Loop.

Walking Man in 2011 in the Loop.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The man who dumped a cup of gasoline on the “Walking Man” last week and lit him on fire says he did it because he’s an “angry person,” a Cook County prosecutor said in court Monday.

“It takes a special kind of evil to do what the defendant did,” Assistant State’s Attorney Danny Hanichak said of Joseph Guardia, the 27-year-old charged in last Wednesday’s random attack.

Also known as “The Walking Dude,” Joseph Kromelis was on fire for three minutes and remains sedated at a hospital, Hanichak said. Doctors say the 75-year-old is not expected to recover.

“The offenses charged here today … are exceptionally brutal and heinous,” Judge Charles Beach said before denying bail on charges of attempted murder and arson. “The random and callous nature of your attack is horrifying.”

Scene on Lower Wabash Avenue where homeless 75-year-old man was set on fire and critically burned.

Scene on Lower Wabash Avenue where homeless 75-year-old man was set on fire and critically burned.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere | Sun-Times

Kromelis — well known to people who frequent downtown Chicago — had been sleeping under blankets in the 400 block of North Lower Wabash Avenue when surveillance cameras captured Guardia walk up and stand over him silently for 16 seconds, Hanichak said. The video allegedly shows Guardia walk to a nearby intersection, where there was no traffic, then return and pour gasoline over Kromelis’ uncovered head and ignite it.

Guardia left as Kromelis’ entire upper body engulfed in flames, Hanichak said. Kromelis tried to put out the fire but eventually slumped against a garage door, singeing it. Two security guards from Trump Tower came to his aid and consoled him before an ambulance arrived.

Police recovered the extra large McDonald’s cup used in the attack and sent it to an Illinois State Police lab for testing, Hanichak said.

Detectives used surveillance video to track Guardia’s movements from the crime scene across town and issue a public bulletin that led to his arrest two days later.

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

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

Chicago police

After the attack, video shows him take a Blue Line train to O’Hare Airport, then take a return train to the other end of the line at Forest Park, Hanichak said. Additional video allegedly shows him take a Pace bus to Melrose Park.

Guardia was first identified by a Melrose Park police officer who saw Chicago police’s public bulletin that showed the attacker with a face tattoo and wearing a distinctive white hoodie, Hanichak said. The officer knew Guardia since childhood and also saw him recently wearing the same outfit at a plasma center in Melrose Park, where the officer works security, Hanichak said.

Guardia was arrested Friday in Melrose Park wearing the same clothes, Hanichak said. Guardia allegedly identified himself in surveillance video as the attacker.

“The Walking Man” in downtown Chicago in 2005.

“The Walking Man” in downtown Chicago in 2005.

File photo

During questioning, Guardia “said he is an angry person and decided he is going to set something on fire,” Hanichak said. Guardia provided no other motive than “being an angry person,” he said. He claimed he had found the cup of gasoline and wanted to burn some trash. He denied knowing that he lit a person on fire, Hanichak said.

“This defendant did not target someone he had an argument with, someone who wronged him or someone that he even knew,” Hanichak said. “This defendant decided to target the most vulnerable person possible, a 75-year-old homeless man sleeping on the street.”

Guardia lives with his mother and her husband in Melrose Park, a public defense attorney said. He graduated from Proviso East High School, worked at a tire shop for six months but has been unemployed for the last year, the attorney said.

Six years ago — on May 24, 2016 — Kromelis 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.

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