Melrose Park resident denied bail in alleged arson attack on ‘Walking Man’

·2 min read

A Melrose Park man facing charges in the recent attack on a local figure known as “Walking Man” was denied bail in court Monday.

Joseph Guardia, 27, is charged with attempted first-degree murder and aggravated arson in connection with the May 25 attack on Joseph Kromelis, who was set on fire. Police arrested Guardia Friday, two days after authorities released stills from surveillance video showing the attacker.

At a hearing Monday, Assistant State’s Attorney Danny Hanichak said surveillance video shows Guardia approaching the sleeping Kromelis with a McDonald’s cup in hand. Guardia stood over Kromelis for 16 seconds, briefly walked away, returned, poured the cup over the sleeping man’s head and lit him on fire, the prosecutor said.

“This defendant did not target someone he got in 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.”

Surveillance video later captured the attacker as he boarded a Blue Line “L” train, then eventually transferred to a Pace bus at the end of the line in Forest Park.

Guardia was arrested after a Melrose Park resident recognized him and notified the police, Judge Charles Beach II said. At the time of his arrest, Guardia was wearing the same clothing seen in the video, Beach said.

Hanichak said Guardia admitted in recorded statements to finding a McDonald’s cup filled with gasoline and setting a pile of blankets on fire. Guardia said he was not aware that a person was underneath the blankets, the prosecutor said.

In denying bond to Guardia, Beach called the nature of the attack “horrifying” and found that the defendant was a threat to the community.

Guardia was also wanted on two separate arrest warrants for burglary, according to court records.

Police have said Kromelis was resting or sleeping in the 400 block of North Lower Wabash Avenue when he was attacked early Wednesday.

At the bond hearing, Hanichak described a horrifying scene in which Kromelis remained on fire for approximately three minutes, trying to extinguish the flames on his body as he slumped against the wall. Two Trump Tower security guards rushed to aid Kromelis and comfort him until emergency responders arrived, the prosecutor said.

Paramedics took Kromelis to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he was listed in critical condition. Authorities said he suffered burns “to nearly half his body.” He was later transferred to Stroger Hospital’s burn unit. Kromelis is sedated, and doctors do not expect him to survive the injuries, Hanichak said.

Kromelis remained in critical condition Monday at the hospital.

Known for his long wavy hair, thick mustache, stylish dress and quiet demeanor as he strolled through downtown for decades, Kromelis has been featured in news stories and videos and a documentary. Kromelis once told the Tribune he “roams as a way of life.”