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Chicago's "Walking Man" set on fire in River North; image of suspect released

"Walking Man" set on fire, critically injured in River North attack
"Walking Man" set on fire, critically injured in River North attack 02:04

CHICAGO (CBS)-- A homeless man known to Chicagoans as "The Walking Man" was set on fire early Wednesday morning in an attack on Lower Wabash Avenue in the River North neighborhood.

Police said, around 3 a.m., a 75-year-old man was laying on the ground in the 400 block of North Wabash Avenue, when another man approached him, poured a flammable liquid on him, set him on fire, and ran off. 

Police sources confirmed to CBS 2's Brad Edwards that the victim is Joseph Kromelis, who suffered burns over 40% of his body. 

Known for his signature long hair, and mustache, and often seen wearing a sport coat, Kromelis is affectionately called "The Walking Man" by Chicagoans who have seen him frequently roaming the city's streets for decades.

Police said a security officer at a building nearby jumped into action and used a fire extinguisher to get the fire out. Kromelis was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in critical condition.

The attack left a burn mark on the garage door where Kromelis was sleeping at the time of the attack.

A surveillance camera is pointed directly at that spot, and CBS 2 has asked surrounding buildings, including nearby Trump Tower, for footage of the attack.

Chicago Police have since released a photo of the suspect who they said fled onto the CTA Blue Line subway after the incident. 

The Offender is described as a tall male with a medium-light complexion, wearing a black and white "Hoodrich" jacket and grey sandals. 

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Chicago Police Department

Anyone with information on the offender's whereabouts can contact Area Three detectives at 312-746-8261. Anonymous tips can be submitted to cpdtip.com. 

The attack came six years after Kromelis was beaten on the streets he has walked for many years. On May 24, 2016, Kromelis was attacked while walking on Lower Wacker Drive. He told police he said hello to someone he passed on the street, and that man began punching him and hitting him with a baseball bat. His nephew said at the time that his uncle's "eyes were almost gouged out."

"I know he doesn't have any money. He's basically been a street peddler his entire life, for as long as I've known him. That's all he's ever done," Kromelis' nephew, Vytas Vaitkus, said at the time. "He never really had a formal job or anything. He doesn't really have anything. My concern is he's going to be discharged from the hospital and, at best, he's going to have trouble seeing, if he regains his sight at all.  And I just think the money would be a great benefit to him."

After the attack, Kromelis refused to press felony charges against his attacker, who was charged with misdemeanor reckless conduct. 

Kromelis said while he hoped his eyes would get better after that attack, and that he could see despite his injuries, he knew his vision would never be the same.

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Joseph Kromelis in happier times. (courtesy: Vytas Vaitkus)

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