Written by: Leonard Parker | Houston Business News | 13th May
At first, it seemed like a case of Silicon Valley d-baggery. The man is shown smirking at the camera, seemingly knowing that he got away with this potentially deadly stunt.
When the first story was published on SFGATE, it seemed like a cut-and-dry case: A guy is putting others in danger by back seat driving his Tesla across the Bay Area, and, after some calling out of the CHP, he was caught just days later when the CHP received calls of him pulling the same stunt Monday night, the CHP said.
IN TEXAS: Texas is primed to be the next Silicon Valley
Param Sharma, 25, was arrested Tuesday and charged with reckless driving and disobeying a peace officer.
But the story doesn’t end there.
An onslaught of emails came in the days after SFGATE first reported on Sharma’s antics. Some were from people who said they were former classmates of his at Albany High. One read: “Please revoke his license.”
Another came from a person who identified himself as Sharma, saying that he was the owner of the car behind the stunt and offering his phone number to chat. And, in effect, he may have admitted to the crime: “That was my Tesla and I got it only to commute from the back seat,” the man claiming to be Sharma said in an email to SFGATE.
A bit of digging revealed that he did, in fact, want to be seen doing this driverless Tesla stunt. He posted it on his YouTube and Instagram accounts. (In them, he wears the same Ralph Lauren cap as he does in the YouTube video recorded by a third party that went viral.)
He seems to relish the infamy. Sharma recorded himself lip syncing to a song by NorCal rapper Mozzy from his backseat, while controlling the steering wheel with his foot; that post was shared on Instagram the Monday before his arrest.
The caption read, “Bitch tell the chp I bought my license.”
Another post, showing off the Daily Mail’s coverage of his back seat driving on an iPad, reads, “I came outta the pandemic in a self driving car U blue blue collar peasants can’t understand my life.”
A bit more digging found that this is all in line with his past behavior.
Sharma went to Albany High in the early 2010s, where he pulled similar stunts, according to a classmate who spoke to SFGATE and was granted anonymity in accordance with Hearst’s ethics policy.
“He’s just been really kind of one of those guys who acts out, one of those guys who really needs to be the center of attention and to an extent turning dangerous or unacceptable, pretty much a constant thorn in the side of the school administration,” the classmate said. Sharma said he was “the most popular kid at my school” in one interview.
READ ALSO: Elon Musk announces that 'now you can buy a Tesla with Bitcoin' and the cryptocurrency rebounds
The former classmate said Sharma also encountered trouble with local police for another act of dangerous driving. He allegedly was arrested for driving on the opposite side of the road multiple times in Albany. Albany police did not immediately respond to a request for comment from SFGATE. A spokesman with the CHP’s Golden Gate Division told SFGATE that he’s been cited in the past for the reckless driving, however, meaning his current charges will likely be more severe this time around. (He got off with a warning once before, the spokesman said.)
But as Sharma was gaining local notoriety in the Bay Area, his online persona began to draw global attention.
Fashioned in the style of New York City pseudosocialite Anna Delvey and Lil Tay — the viral child flexer-turned-rapper who recently re-entered the headlines for family turmoil — Sharma’s shtick is to knowingly deploy signifiers of wealth and status into social media notoriety. He uses the name “ItsLavishBitch” on social media; sometimes altered to “GoldCollarLavish.”
The bio of an Instagram likely belonging to him reads: “I’m a gold collar u a blue collar 25 left the pandemic richer than ever before.” Derision of blue-collar labor, fancy cars, including a Lamborghini, and wads of cash feature heavily in his account.
Everything Sharma has done online seems calculated for maximum outrage and viral potential, a walking, talking algorithm engineered for clout. He says he only uses toilets filled with sparkling water. He holds bands of cash in his mouth. He reportedly has six iPhones.
He’s launched social media tirades on Soulja Boy, Kim Kardashian and other celebrities way above his pay grade. He once accused Rihanna of jacking his style.
Other outlets — especially those with a penchant for novelty and controversy — ran exposés and Q&As.
The headlines were breathless, if not always complimentary. “The Internet's Celebrity Bashing Brat King,” read Vice’s. “Is this the most spoiled kid in the U.S. or is it just a hoax?” asked the Daily Mail. He's "Instagram's Richest Teen," an MTV story declared. A Digital Trends article dubbed him “Instagram’s richest troll.”
He’s also the slightest bit self-aware, knowing that his trolling gets a rise out of people. “People feed off the crazy things I do, like pooping in sparkling water,” he told Vice. “I’m using wealth as comedy.”
READ MORE: These tech workers left California for Austin. They don't regret it.
But behind the exasperated intrigue surrounding him is a reality that’s perhaps a bit more grim. Sharma, then 18, was arrested in 2014 for an incident involving an iPhone, and was placed in the jail’s psychiatric ward. His then-lawyer told KGO that another inmate “tried to kill him.”
Aside from being annoying and absurd, until now his viral antics really didn’t harm anyone, except for the 1% of celebrities who were the subject of his taunts.
He seems to crave any press in an effort to rack up more followers on the 'gram. Normally, we wouldn't fall for it — but now that his ploys for fame could have real-world consequences, he's unfortunately become a newsworthy figure.
Sharma’s follower count is a lot less now on a new account — more than 5,000. At one point, his follower count peaked at 400,000, before the account was taken down. The classmate said Instagram deactivated his account due to an excess of fake followers on the platform.
But it's unclear what punishments Sharma will face; the Alameda County District Attorney's Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from SFGATE.
“I don’t wish ill on anyone, but he’s one of those guys who you see he’s in jail and you’re not surprised,” the classmate said.