Rushdan Abdallah's videos on YouTube have been viewed by the millions and offer an up-close glimpse of car culture in Southern California: getting caught in the middle of a police chase, sampling new vehicle models and street racing with other drivers as the camera rolls (the speedometer blurred).
But in December, Abdallah's page — with more than 220,000 subscribers — abruptly went dormant. After weeks without new videos, Abdallah said he "had to make an update" and revealed what was going on: Police had recently arrived at his Lake Forest residence with a search warrant.
"They just showed up one morning, knocked on the door and towed both cars away," Abdallah said. Two fellow YouTubers also had their homes raided by police, he said.
"I'm in tears. I haven't had my cars for over 100 days, and that's insane to think about," he said, adding, "I love my channel, I love my cars, and I love sharing the videos with you."
The criminal investigation into Abdallah became clearer last week when the Irvine Police Department arrested the 26-year-old and four others on suspicion of conspiracy to participate in illegal street races across Orange County.
Prosecutors say the men have held races through Irvine, Tustin, Lake Forest and Foothill Ranch, predominantly on the 241 and 261 tollways — racing at speeds up to 160 miles per hour.
"No one driving on our roads should suddenly find themselves in the middle of what equates to a NASCAR race being raced by amateurs who are not trained or skilled enough to drive vehicles being pushed to their mechanical limits," Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer said in a statement.
"Street racing is irresponsible," he said, "it’s dangerous, and it shows a complete disregard for the lives of everyone involved including the participants, the spectators, and the innocent bystanders."
Neither Abdallah nor the defense attorney listed in court records, Randy Sarmiento, responded to messages seeking comment. Abdallah was released on $20,000 bail, and a judge ordered him not to drive. His next court appearance is scheduled for April.
Street racing has been a growing concern among law enforcement and community members. Over the summer, street racing led to the death of an Orange County Register editor, and so-called street takeovers last fall in Costa Mesa and Anaheim left one man dead and two injured. A Los Angeles Times investigation found 179 people had died in speed contests in L.A. County from 2000 to 2017.
In the case of the YouTubers, the investigation by Irvine police into the coordinated street racing took about six months, beginning around Jan. 31, 2020, when prosecutors allege that Abdallah and Sean Stuart, 36, raced each other through Orange County.
In the following months, Abdallah allegedly met with two La Verne residents, Aaron Hamed Waseeq and Daniel Rodriguez, as well as Saeid Lachin, a Fullerton resident, for illicit races on the two toll roads.
Abdallah, Waseeq and Rodriguez each posted videos of their driving exploits to their YouTube pages. Prosecutors said Abdallah also asked his viewers to provide competitors for street races.
For Abdallah, such videos were a source of popularity and income.
"A lot of people don't understand that you can make a very good living off of YouTube, if you know how to monetize your channel properly," he said in a February 2020 clip. He said that a channel of his size generated "anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 per month" in revenue, which he said he used for his cars and recording equipment.
"Content is key on YouTube," he said.
The district attorney's office said Abdallah's alleged participation in the illegal street racing occurred while he was already out on bail on charges that he evaded police during a November 2019 pursuit.
If convicted of the six felonies and 12 misdemeanor counts against him, he faces more than eight years in prison.
Waseeq, Lachin and Rodriguez were each charged with two felony conspiracy charges in connection with the street races as well as additional misdemeanors alleging reckless driving and abetting a street race. If convicted, each faces up to three years and eight months in prison.
Stuart, who was charged with one felony count of conspiracy to engage in a speeding contest and two misdemeanor counts, faces up to three years in prison.
The last video that Abdallah posted to his channel, Rush Shift, was on Christmas Eve.
He was at a gas station fueling a red Corvette C8 and then visited two fellow YouTubers who were charged last week. He promised at the time, "They're making a comeback."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.