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Sports

Shooting of Saints Defensive End Leaves New Orleans in Shock

Will Smith helped pull the city back from the brink after Hurricane Katrina, before being slain in an argument following a fender bender

New Orleans mourns the loss of its beloved defensive end Will Smith, Photo: AP
1 year ago

CINDY BOREN

THE WASHINGTON POST

The shooting death of former Saints defensive end Will Smith left one of New Orleans’ high-profile residents searching for reasons for Smith’s death and solutions for the violence.

“The problem is New Orleans perennially is way up in these homicides statistically,” Drew Brees, the New Orleans Saints quarterback who was Smith’s teammate for seven seasons, told MMQB’s Peter King. “We become desensitized to it. And so many people die, but we pay attention when it’s Will Smith; that forces so many people who wouldn’t normally deal with it to deal with the reality of a terrible thing, the gun violence in the city.

“People are going to make arguments now about gun control. And it just seems to me . . . This is about the way . . . the way human beings treat other human beings.”

Police have charged Cardell Hayes, a 28-year-old man known in the area as a former high school football star, with second-degree murder and are continuing to investigate whether the incident was simple road rage that tragically escalated or whether there was any kind of premeditation involved. The lawyer for Hayes, who is being held on $1 million bond and could face charges in the wounding of Smith’s wife, said his client was “not the aggressor” in the moments after what began as a rear-end collision.

Smith, a member of the Saints’ Super Bowl-winning team, was shot to death, taking bullets to the back and torso, late Saturday night as he and his wife, Racquel, were driving through New Orleans’ Lower Garden District after an evening out. According to police, Hayes shot Smith and wounded his wife in the leg after the men exchanged words following a collision in which Hayes’s Hummer H2 rear-ended Smith’s Mercedes-Benz SUV.

“My client was not the aggressor, in terms of the behavior that happened after the accident,” defense attorney John Fuller told reporters Sunday after Hayes’s first appearance in Orleans Parish magistrate court (via Nola.com). “My client is of the opinion that toxicology should be conducted of all the parties involved in this incident, and that would shed some light on the behavior of some of the participants.”

Fuller told reporters that there was a previous collision in which someone, either Smith or friends of his in a Chevrolet Impala, rear-ended Hayes’s vehicle first.

“There may have been an earlier accident, in which one of the parties sped off,” Fuller said. “My client followed in an attempt to get the license information, and also made a 911 call to report such an accident, all of which should be apparent in upcoming weeks.”

It also is “possible,” he said, that someone in Smith’s group had a gun, although the affidavit sworn by a New Orleans homicide detective did not indicate that. Hayes, whom Fuller described as a “semi-pro football player,” remained on the scene after the shooting and, according to Fuller, placed the first 911 call.

“His actions are totally consistent with someone that is complying with police investigations,” Fuller said. “Now tell me if that’s the behavior that’s consistent with someone who is an animal out here, looking for blood.

“He was struck in a hit-and-run prior to this incident occurring. My client was hit. The person that hit him sped off. My client followed behind that person in an effort to get their license plate, and my client called 911, which will be verified in the upcoming weeks. My client’s car was struck from the rear. I really don’t know which car [he was chasing], but all that will become apparent in upcoming weeks.”

Now something’s been broken here.”

-Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints quarterback

Although road rage was initially mentioned by police as a possible motive for the shooting, police also focused their attention on whether Hayes, who had worked security for the Saints at the time Smith was playing for the team, might have borne a grudge against Smith. Hayes’s father was shot to death by police in 2005 and his lawsuit against the department was settled for an undisclosed sum. A photo taken Saturday night showed Smith with former Saints running back Pierre Thomas and one of the officers named in the lawsuit. Fuller, though, says Hayes was not acquainted with Smith.

Now, as the workweek begins, Racquel Smith is recovering from surgery to repair her wounds. As she heals, she’ll attend to the three children Smith leaves behind and plan a funeral that will be difficult for fans of Who Dat nation and New Orleans residents who remember the role Smith and the Saints played in helping the city recover from Hurricane Katrina.

“A lot’s been written about the bond between the team and the city, and what a special time it’s been over the past decade,” Brees told King. “If the guy knew this was a star of the Saints, who knows? Does he change his mind? Does he walk away? Does he put his gun down? Not to trivialize this — at all — but does he say, ‘Hey, I grew up here. I love this city.’ Does he walk away? Maybe.

“But now something’s been broken here.”

On Sunday evening, there was another fatal shooting, this one in the Seventh Ward. “It’s getting really outrageous,” resident Charles Smith told Nola.com. “Kids can’t come outside and summertime is getting ready to come, so a lot of people are going to be fearing for their children.” Just a little over four years ago, Will Smith tweeted this about the city in which he lived and died:

“Wow, 20 murders in 26 days? New Orleans … Please Stop the Violence!”

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