CPD Has Reportedly Identified Person of Interest in Hit-and-Run Killing of Joseph Ruta

Joseph Ruta at a baby shower for his daughter Kaylee Ruta shortly before his death. Photo: Facebook
Joseph Ruta at a baby shower for his daughter Kaylee Ruta shortly before his death. Photo: Facebook

Police have identified a person of interest in the hit-and-run killing of Joseph Ruta, 56, last week in a Lakeview alley, possibly in part due to testimony provided by victim before he died, Ruta’s girlfriend Kathleen Duff said yesterday.

Ruta was discovered on Thursday, August 1, at 11 a.m. lying in an alley in the 1000 block of West Oakdale and transported to Advocate Illinois Medical Center, police said. The victim, who lived on the 2700 block of North Marshfield in northwest Lincoln Park, was pronounced dead at 5:58 p.m. that day, the Cook County medical examiner’s said.

According to Duff, Ruta’s girlfriend of nine year, police said they have identified a person who may have been the driver, a woman who claimed she had struck a piece of furniture in the alley, which is why she didn’t stop to render aid. Duff said she doesn’t believe it’s possible the driver didn’t know she struck a human being. “Joseph was 5’9″ and 200 pounds. This was not a small guy.”

Ruta suffered a fractured pelvis, broken ribs, and internal bleeding, and died from a heart attack while he was being operated on, Duff said. She added that the victim was conscious when the police arrived and provided a description of the vehicle, a black SUV. “They probably got the plate number from security cameras or another witness,” she said. Duff said the police have impounded the SUV.

Officer Michelle Tannehill from Police News Affairs told Streetsblog yesterday evening that no arrests had been made in the case and there were no other updates.

Tragically, Duff said that Ruta, who worked driving a beer delivery truck, was in the process of recovering from a hip replacement to address an injury from years of hauling kegs, and “he was doing really well” when the driver killed him. As part of his recovery process, he was in the habit of taking long walks, and he was dumpster diving for furniture and household goods, a longtime hobby, when he was struck. He liked to check dumpsters in affluent neighborhoods at the end of the month, when people move apartments, calling those trash receptacles “honey holes.”

This wasn’t the first time Ruta had been struck by a reckless driver, according to Duff. Several months ago the couple was walking across a driveway for the McDonald’s at 2834 North Ashland, around the corner from Ruta’s home, when a motorist hit him, causing minor injuries.

Duff, a former insurance investigator who’s currently studying medical coding, said Ruta basically lived his entire life on the same block of Marshfield, calling him “a neighborhood guy” who loved to play softball. She also describes him as a plugger: “He was the kind of guy who would drop a keg on his toes, break a toe, and keep working.” The couple met about a decade ago when she and her dog were visiting a bartender friend at the Four Treys bar in Roscoe Village and he was making a delivery.

Ruta, who leaves behind three children from a previous marriage, attended a baby shower for his daughter Kaylee Ruta shortly before his death. Duff says he was also always interested in helping out his neighbors. “I remember one time a little old lady was throwing out a vacuum cleaner. He said, ‘You need one?’ and gave her a [working] vacuum that he had dumpster-dived. He had the biggest heart.”

  • FlamingoFresh

    Not buying the driver’s claim that she thought she hit some furniture. If you’re hitting anything that large without the intent to get away, you’re checking your vehicle for damages right there.

  • David P.

    The driver’s claim is one of the typical things one hears when people hit someone with their car and don’t want to accept responsibility for it.

  • MT

    Around the same time, I ran over a car-board box that had fallen off a garbage can in my alley. I stopped and looked to see what I ran over. Everyone does this, primarily because at the least, they are concerned about possible damage to the underside of their car. No way this woman could think a human was furniture. I personally know Joe. He was everything his girlfriend described and more. Always friendly, smiley and willing to chat or lend a hand. And, he was a big guy, you can’t run over something that is 200 pounds and almost 6 feet tall and not notice a BIG impact. So, you look in your review mirror….she did not see a piece of furniture. She should have called 911….Joe might be alive if she did. So very sad. I understand she is frightened, but Joe and his family deserve justice.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    I’m very sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. Hopefully there will be some news from the CPD soon.

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