Ismael Torres Ceja poured out of a maroon Omnibus Express shuttle van along with nearly a dozen other Hispanic men into a parking lot pockmarked with potholes next to the Big Kmart at Nolensville Pike and Harding Place.
The men stood, some catching a smoke break, in the wet, dark-gray late afternoon as the van’s driver unloaded their luggage from a stuffed enclosed trailer. He transferred the bags into the cargo hold of a much roomier coach bus, equipped with the desired amenities for interstate travel.
Earlier that day Ceja, 26, caught the shuttle van in Hopkinsville, Ky., where he, his older brother and about 10 other men had just left their seasonal job picking tobacco at a farm near Princeton, Ky. They had worked there since July on temporary agricultural worker visas. Now Ceja was headed home to Guadalajara, Mexico.
Similar bus terminals and transportation services catering to Hispanics have flourished in Nashville recently, particularly along Nolensville Pike, which has three such businesses within a half-mile stretch.
Felipa Aguilar, a manager at Omnibus Express, said the services that cater to Hispanics can be an affordable alternative to flying. They compare favorably to other bus lines because of fewer stops along the way, as well as cost. Additionally, Spanish-speaking travelers don’t have to worry about a language barrier.
Omnibus has another terminal in Indianapolis with a route running through Nashville down Interstate 40 to multiple destinations in Texas. From terminals there, passengers make connecting routes taking them across the border to numerous destinations in Mexico.
Aside from the main bus routes, shuttle vans fan out and pick up passengers who make reservations from satellite sites, as many as 60 across Tennessee and Kentucky, found in places such as Hispanic grocery stores.
With fewer stops, the buses tend to make better time than other bus lines, embarking from Nashville around 4:30 in the evening and arriving in destinations in Texas by 6 a.m. With a ticket from Nashville to Houston costing around $150, for most the price is right.
A few weeks ago, one such bus service, a block up Nolensville Pike from the Omnibus terminal, became the sticky paper that caught a fly. That fly being 26-year-old Olbin Sabier Euceda, arrested three weeks ago, accused by Metro police of several home invasion robberies and sexual assaults, including the alleged rape of an 11-year-old girl.
On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Maria Suarez witnessed that bust as she sat alongside her uncle and her 7-year-old daughter in a packed lobby of the Tornado Bus Co., once a fast-food restaurant.
Suarez, who owns her own business a couple blocks from the Tornado terminal, sat with her uncle — who had come to visit over the weekend — waiting to see him off to Guanajuato, Mexico, via Dallas. The bus, they were told, was running late. Several feet away, another of Suarez’s daughters, a 13-year-old, ambled around the lobby chatting on her cell phone.
It was then that a dozen or more, by Suarez’s estimate, police vehicles swarmed the business, blocking the parking lot entrances and releasing 30 or more police, including SWAT team members, clad in bulletproof vests and packing automatic weapons.
“I thought they were like from the FBI or something,” Suarez said. “I thought they were like drug [police]. We didn’t know what was going on.”
Inside, Suarez said, police detained a male not far from where her daughter had wandered.
Outside, sitting in a parked car, police caught up to the suspect, who had become their top priority over the past few days. They arrested Euceda that night and detained three juveniles who were with him for questioning.
Police suspect it was Euceda and an accomplice who approached a woman at her Overlook apartment on Bell Road as she was carrying groceries into the home. After allegedly robbing her and her husband at gunpoint, police said, Euceda then raped their 11-year-old daughter. That was the evening of Sunday, Nov. 20.
On Monday, police named Euceda as the “armed and very dangerous” wanted suspect in the Overlook robbery and rape. On Tuesday, he was in jail.
As of last week, Euceda had been charged in Nashville with 12 counts of aggravated robbery, two counts of aggravated rape and one count of rape of a child. Those charges have been bound over to a grand jury. Euceda, according to police, has admitted his involvement in many of the cases. He is also wanted on a murder charge out of Shelby County, Ala.
Last week, police arrested Euceda’s alleged accomplice Rony Sorto, 23. According to Metro police, the Nashville victims in the crimes that Euceda and Sorto are charged with were all of Hispanic descent, and it was assistance from the Hispanic community that led to the identification of both suspects.
The federal government has placed immigration holds on both Euceda and Sorto, as they are believed to be in the country illegally. Police suspect Euceda was ultimately looking to make his way to Honduras when they arrested him, first by trying his luck with the bus network here in the States.
As Yuri Cunza, president and CEO of the Nashville Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, pointed out, bus travel is a familiar form of transportation for many in the community. “In Mexico, the bus system — at least from my experience — is so developed that everybody is used to [riding them].”
Aguilar said, at least by her account working at Omnibus, the service is very popular in Nashville. Even with no shortage of nearby competitors, the bus, which seats 44, hovers around full capacity day in and day out, with a lot of repeat customers.
It’s Ceja’s third year traveling through the States on his way to and from work. For him it boils down to comfort being able to speak in his native language.
Suarez said the bus lines are providing “a very good service, and they are affordable for people. A lot of people, they are so afraid to fly, … [but on the bus] they can sleep the whole night.” She added that her uncle, who always rides on Tornado when he travels, always takes his favorite pillow along for the ride.