Facial recognition identified gunman who hijacked CTA bus at gunpoint, prosecutors say

CHICAGO — A West Side man who carjacked a CTA bus and kidnapped its driver at gunpoint was on pretrial release for a felony charge of driving with a license suspended due to DUI, officials said. Chicago police used facial recognition technology to track him down.

Judge Susana Ortiz detained Cortez Flowers to await trial, saying electronic monitoring would not protect the public from him because state law allows people on ankle monitors to roam the city freely two days a week.

The bus driver pulled his #54 Cicero bus into the terminal at Montrose and Cicero around 10:45 p.m. on January 13 but agreed to let Flowers stay on for the ride back south as long as he didn’t cause any trouble, prosecutors said.

After using the restroom and having a smoke, the driver boarded the bus and walked down the aisle looking for trash. Flowers was holding a gun when the driver walked past, prosecutors said.

The driver returned to his seat and tried to activate the panic alarm, but he later realized he had pushed the wrong button. By then, it was too late. Flowers stepped to the front of the bus and stood next to the driver with a gun, repeatedly telling him to “be afraid,” according to prosecutors.

Cortez Flowers (inset) and CTA surveillance images of the suspect holding a tan firearm. (Chicago Police Department)

Flowers held the driver at gunpoint, first directing him to drive north and then ordering him to return to his usual route, according to a court filing. Flowers eventually exited at Division and Cicero about 25 minutes after the ordeal began.

CTA cameras captured the entire episode. Chicago police ran images of the hijacker through facial recognition software, which identified Flowers as the gunman, according to prosecutors. They said police put a picture of Flowers in a photo lineup, and the bus driver identified him as the hijacker.

Police staked out Flowers’ home and took him into custody.

“That’s me,” he allegedly replied after being shown a CTA image of the hijacker. He explained that he remembered falling asleep on the bus and waking up to look for his wallet. But he said he did not have any conversation with the driver, according to court filings.

Detectives noted that he later conceded that the situation was “a big mistake.”

He is charged with aggravated vehicular hijacking with a firearm and aggravated kidnapping.

Flowers was arrested on January 1 for driving on a license suspended for DUI, a felony. He was released from the police station within hours, then failed to show up for his first court date on January 22, according to court records.

His previous felony convictions include driving on a license suspended for DUI in 2011, 2021, and twice in 2013.

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About Tim Hecke 326 Articles
Tim Hecke is CWBChicago's managing partner. He started his career at KMOX, the legendary news radio station in St. Louis. From there, he moved on to work at stations in Minneapolis, Chicago, and New York City. Tim went on to build syndicated radio news and content services that served every one of America's 100 largest radio markets. He became CWBChicago's managing partner in 2019. His email address is tim@cwbchicago.com