Police are investigating whether the shooting death of Will Smith, a former defensive end who played on the New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl-winning team, was a random act that occurred when an argument erupted into road rage after an auto accident Saturday night in New Orleans’s Lower Garden District.
Orleans Parish coroner Jeffrey Rouse confirmed for Nola.com that Smith, 34, was pronounced dead at the scene and his wife, Racquel, was hospitalized with a non-life-threatening gunshot wound to the leg. Cardell Hayes, the 28-year-old driver of the other vehicle, was booked at around 8 a.m. Sunday on a second-degree murder charge. He remained on the scene after shooting Smith multiple times until police arrived shortly after the 11:29 p.m. CDT shooting.
Although a police spokesman said Sunday morning that the shooting “could possibly have been road rage,” details of Hayes ‘s background were a focus of investigation Sunday afternoon. A former high school football star in the New Orleans area, Hayes had worked security for the Saints while Smith played for the team.
Hayes also had reached a settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit against police in connection with the death of his father in 2005. One of the officers named in the lawsuit was shown with Smith and former Saints running back Pierre Thomas shortly before the Smiths were shot.
In a press conference Sunday afternoon, New Orleans police chief Michael Harrison confirmed that Hayes is the son of the man who was killed by police in 2005. However, he said there was no information to suggest that Hayes and Smith knew each other or that it was “anything other than an accident that turned into a dispute which turned violent.” Asked if Hayes had claimed self-defense, Harrison said that was information “we’d like not to provide right now.”
The investigation, Harrison said, is continuing. Hayes has not yet been charged in the shooting of Smith’s wife.
During the arraignment late Sunday afternoon, an arrest warrant affidavit filed by police indicated that Smith died of gunshots to his back and right torso (via Nola.com). According to the warrant sworn by NOPD homicide detective Bruce Brueggeman at least one witness saw Hayes arguing with Smith after a traffic accident, then raising a gun to shoot the former Saints defensive end. Hayes is being held on $1 million bond.
Earlier in the evening, Smith had posted an Instagram photo of him and his wife at the French Quarter Festival. NBC New Orleans’s Fletcher Mackel reported that Smith and his wife were on their way home after having dinner at Sake Cafe, a Garden District restaurant.
The shootings took place shortly before midnight after the Mercedes Benz SUV in which Smith and his wife were traveling was rear-ended by a Hummer H2, authorities told Nola.com. Smith’s vehicle then struck a Chevrolet Impala.
Witnesses told authorities that Smith and the driver of the Hummer “exchanged words, at which time the driver of the Hummer produced a handgun and shot the male victim multiple times,” Barnes said, adding that Racquel Smith was shot twice in the lower leg.
Janis Baehr, a tourist who was in New Orleans for the French Quarter Festival, told Nola.com that she witnessed the crash and heard six to eight shots. “It was a crash, boom, bang,” she said. She then saw a woman lying on the pavement and helped her, giving her ice chips until help arrived.
“I kept her company until the paramedics came because she was screaming,” Baehr said.
Smith’s former teammates were horrified by the news of his death.
“This man had a beautiful family,” Jermon Bushrod tweeted. “His life [was] taken away for nothing.”
A little over four years ago, Smith took notice of gun violence in New Orleans, tweeting “Please Stop the Violence!”
Wow, 20 murders in 26 days? New Orleans.. Please Stop the Violence!
His family issued a statement Sunday morning, expressing thanks for the support and prayers they had received. “We ask that you continue to respect the family’s privacy as they grieve the loss of a devoted husband, father and friend,” the statement said.
Smith, a starter on the Saints’ Super Bowl XLIV championship team, also played for Ohio State’s national-championship team and was the No. 18 overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft. He played 10 seasons with the Saints, amassing 67.5 sacks. He tore a knee ligament in a 2013 preseason game and didn’t play another down in the NFL. He was cut by the Saints the following spring and attempted to revive his career with the New England Patriots during the 2014 offseason but was released during training camp.
Smith was one of four players initially suspended during the team’s BountyGate scandal, but his four-game suspension (as well as those given the other players), was overturned on appeal in 2012. He signed a seven-year, $63-million contract extension with the Saints in 2008.
In addition to his wife, Smith is survived by sons William and Wynter and a daughter, Lisa. Racquel Smith, who married Will in 2008, posted this photo of two of the children from a recent vacation: “To see my babies having fun and happy is my goal in life! #mommiehood:) pic.twitter.com/NqyS57qkqC”
Reaction was swift, with former teammate Reggie Bush saying on Twitter that the shooting made him sick.
“@ReggieBush Sick to my stomach! This one hurts”
“Devastated. Lord please be with the Smith family at this tragic time. Nonsense man…”
Sean Payton (@SeanPayton) said on Twitter: “Heavy Hearts w the senseless passing of our Team Capt. Will Smith. Pray for his wife’s recovery and their children.”