Longtime New Orleans Saints standout Will Smith, one of the most beloved players in recent franchise history, was shot and killed Saturday night. It happened when his car was hit by another vehicle and the other driver reportedly shot Smith in what police are calling a road rage incident, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune's Katherine Terrell.
The coroner's office confirmed Smith's death was "by multiple gunshot wounds." New Orleans police have announced that the suspected other driver and shooter, Cardell Hayes, who is reportedly 28, has been charged with second-degree murder in Smith's death.
“We absolutely do not tolerate this behavior in New Orleans," New Orleans Police Department superintendent Michael Harrison said Sunday at a brief media conference.
The incident occurred at 11:29 p.m. CT Saturday in the Lower Garden District, an upscale part of New Orleans. Smith's Mercedes was hit from behind by an orange Hummer H2, police said, which caused Smith's vehicle to hit a grey Chevrolet Impala that was in front of him. Two of Smith's acquaintances, who were in the Impala, were not injured.
— Michael DeMocker (@MichaelDeMocker) April 10, 2016
The gun was recovered by police at that time, and the suspected shooter was taken into custody. Hayes, the driver of the Hummer and the alleged shooter, reportedly exchanged words with Smith. Harrison said that Hayes remained on the scene after the shooting, spoke with homicide investigators and was taken into custody.
Harrison wouldn’t confirm if Smith had a weapon but did say only one weapon was confiscated — the one police believe Hayes used to shoot Smith. Harrison said the gun in question had no record of being illegal, but he would not confirm to whom the weapon was registered.
Online court records show that Hayes previously pleaded guilty to one count each of possessing an illegal weapon and possessing drug paraphernalia in 2014, although Harrison said he did not believe that Hayes had a history of trouble with the law.
Hayes also was involved in a high-profile lawsuit against the city of New Orleans for killing his father in a December 2005 shooting, Hayes' ex-attorney confirmed to the New Orleans Advocate on Sunday. That case was settled out of court in 2011 for an undisclosed amount, according to the attorney.
In a bizarre twist, one of the defendants mentioned in that lawsuit — retired police officer Billy Ceravolo, who was accused by Hayes of shooting his father — had been dining with Smith and former Saints player Pierre Thomas shortly prior to Smith's death. Ceravolo told the Advocate he considered Smith and Thomas personal friends but that he was not at the scene of the shooting.
“Right now there’s no information to suggest that any of that had any reason or played any factor in the shooting,” Harrison said.
Harrison said the investigation continues, including of whether Smith and Hayes knew each other previously or whether this was just a coincidental homicide.
At the time, Smith, 34, was driving with his wife, Racquel, who was shot in the leg twice and wounded. She was taken to a local hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries. They were married in 2008 and had three children — two sons and a daughter.
“We are devastated and saddened by Will’s tragic and preventable death due to a senseless act that will leave a lasting scar on our community forever,” Saints owner Tom Benson said in a statement. “Will was more than an exceptional football player he was a father, a husband, a son, a brother and teammate to so many and an inspiration to countless more. He will be greatly missed by all those he touched and impacted both on and off the football field and his legacy will continue to shine. The Saints family is hurting and devastated as it has lost a member too young and too soon.”
A senseless and tragic loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with Will Smith - his wife Racquel - his children William, Wynter and Lisa.
— Greg Bensel (@GregBensel) April 10, 2016
Smith tweeted out a picture on Saturday at 7:44 p.m., just hours before his murder, of him attending the French Quarter Fest, reportedly with Thomas.
— Will Smith (@iWillSmith) April 10, 2016
The Smith family issued this statement through a public-relations firm:
"On behalf of the Smith family, we are thankful for the outpouring of support and prayers. We ask that you continue to respect the family's privacy as they grieve the loss of a devoted husband, father and friend."
A former first-round pick out of Ohio State in 2004, Smith spent the majority of his career with the Saints, and his 67.5 sacks — including 13 sacks in 2009 — rank fourth on the franchise's all-time list. He won a Super Bowl with the Saints in that 2009 season, the only one in franchise history, and collected 457 career tackles, 20 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and two interceptions in his career in New Orleans.
He last played in an NFL regular-season game in 2012, finishing his career by spending the 2013 season on injured reserve following a preseason knee injury. Smith was released in 2014 and later signed with the New England Patriots that offseason but never played a game with them.
The team's former captain found himself in the middle of two of the NFL's more high-profile discipline cases in the past decade. He was suspended four games by the league in 2012 for his involvement in the bounty scandal, although that suspension later was overturned. He also missed two games via suspension (reduced from four initially) for testing positive for a banned diuretic via an over-the-counter weight loss product called StarCaps, a case that dragged on for years.
Smith was active off the field in philanthropic events, especially with trying to improve the lives of New Orleans children. In 2007, Smith established Where There's A Will, There's A Way — a foundation with the stated mission "to motivate, educate and provide opportunities for women and children."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement on Smith's death.
— NFL (@NFL) April 10, 2016
Grief has poured out from all over the NFL, but especially from a few of his former teammates.
Heavy Hearts w the senseless passing of our Team Capt. Will Smith. Pray for his wife's recovery and their children. pic.twitter.com/VomR0Sut6M
— Sean Payton (@SeanPayton) April 10, 2016
Devastated. Lord please be with the Smith family at this tragic time. Nonsense man...
— Mark Ingram II (@MarkIngram22) April 10, 2016
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