WICKER PARK — A man collapsed on Damen Avenue on Wednesday afternoon — temporarily halting traffic on the busy street as four friends dragged him unconscious to the sidewalk, called 911 and ran off with his puppy as authorities arrived, a witness said.
The 21-year-old man was one of the young transient "gutter punks" who arrive in the city every summer and frequent the neighborhood. They also refer to themselves as travelers or oogles.
The incident occurred around 3:30 p.m. in front of the CTA Damen Blue Line "L" station, 1558 N. Damen Ave., according to Auggie Hernandez, a restaurant worker who just ended his dishwashing shift and watched the spectacle unfold.
"He fell and collapsed in middle of the street. He had a puppy and I thought he was going to fall on the puppy [because] he was swaying before he fell. He passed out and four people with him dragged him off the street and on the sidewalk. They were screaming 'Call 911' and they ran off," Hernandez said.
Officer Thomas Sweeney, a Chicago Police spokesman, said Shakespeare District Police responded to a call of a "person down."
On Wednesday night, Cmr. Curtis Hudson, a Fire Department spokesman, said that the man was transported to St. Mary's Hospital and is in serious condition.
"He is on advanced life support with medication being given," Hudson said.
One of the transients, who would identify himself only as John, was panhandling around the corner from the station on Milwaukee Avenue. John said he was talking to the man 15 minutes before the incident and suspected heroin may have been involved in the collapse.
"I hope he's okay. I hope he gets okay. I hope he's able to kick that habit. It's not something you can do and be responsible for another life, a puppy," John said.
John said that the man's puppy would be kept by another traveler and returned to the man.
Like many transients who arrive to Wicker Park from all over the country every summer, John and the man who collapsed wear green or brown fatigues, carry large backpacks and prefer to live on the streets and panhandle.
Sometimes called "rail riders," the transient 20-somethings camp out in Wicker Park's namesake park.
Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) has derisively called the travelers "selectively homeless" and cited problems with fighting, drinking and drug use. Others say they can be aggressive panhandlers.
Hernandez said that there needs to be more undercover police in the area who can help to stop the drug sales and usage problem.
"They need more checks in the park, not in uniform. They run away when they see uniforms. This is a beautiful park and they are destroying it. Every summer, these people come here," Hernandez said.
On Thursday afternoon, the man who overdosed was back on the streets, sitting on the sidewalk and panhandling at the busy Milwaukee and Damen avenue intersection.
"I'm never doing heroin again; that's the closest I've come to death," the man, who used only his first name of Max, said.
Originally from Massachusetts, Max said he's been traveling for three years and doing heroin for all three of those years. Max said he bought a dose of heroin laced with Carfentanil — which he called "car" — for $5 "somewhere in Chicago" and shot it into himself a few minutes before he passed out.
Max said he was walking with his 6-week-old puppy, a Shih Tzu and Chihuahua mix named Cheese, when he collapsed.
Max, the day after overdosing on heroin, back on the street with his dog, Cheese. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]