New Orleans police announced last night that they found a loaded (though unfired) handgun in the vehicle belonging to former Saints DE Will Smith, who was shot to death following a car crash.
The NOPD release does not make mention of the gun’s ownership, or whether it was handled by Smith or any of the three passengers in his vehicle. (The police statement also revealed for the first time the presence of two other passengers in Smith’s vehicle.) But the attorney of the man in the vehicle with Cardell Hayes, Smith’s accused shooter, said, “my client believes that Cardell saved his life.”
Smith was killed following a three-car crash in New Orleans’s Lower Garden District on Saturday night, after a night out with friends including former teammate Pierre Thomas. Witnesses told police and media that Smith’s Mercedes was rear-ended by Hayes’s Hummer, and following an argument Hayes shot Smith multiple times while Smith was still inside his vehicle. Smith was pronounced dead at the scene, his body slumped over the steering column, while Smith’s wife Racquel suffered at least one gunshot wound to the leg.
One witness, in video obtained by the New Orleans Times-Picayune, referenced an argument between two men, apparently Hayes and Smith, in which both claimed to have guns.
“‘Get out of here or I have a gun.’ And he goes, ‘Fuck y’all, I got one too.’ And he grabs the gun and then he shoots him in the back. He’s dead.”
There was no mention of more than one gun until last night’s NOPD release, which actually identified a third weapon—a loaded handgun found in Hayes’s vehicle. Of the three weapons, only the .45 caliber handgun believed to be in Hayes’s possession was found to have been fired, with shell casings found on the scene matching the weapon.
The police statement also confirmed the existence of surveillance video from a block and a half away from the scene of the shooting, which appears to show Smith’s Mercedes rear-ending Hayes’s Hummer. When the Hummer pulls over, the Mercedes speeds on. The Hummer follows.
Road rage and self-defense figure to form Hayes’s defense. Yesterday an attorney for Kevin O’Neal, a passenger in Hayes’s vehicle, claimed Smith was the aggressor.
“My client believes that Cardell saved his life.” Ruffin said. “Smith had a gun and was going to shoot it and Cardell may have saved both of their lives … in my mind this is justifiable homicide. Was Will Smith acting like a Saint? This was a hit-and-run that ended up in a tragedy. You’ve got the aggression of two football players, facing off with each other as if they are on the field and you are going to get your point across by any means necessary.”
Pierre Thomas, who was out to dinner with Smith before the shooting and was seen at the scene shortly after Smith’s murder, appeared to indicate in an Instagram post that he was a witness.
I witnessed a close friend, teammate and a man that I thought of as one of my big brothers in the NFL shot to death OVER A FUCKING FENDER BENDER!!!! Why!? I just don’t get it... these images that I have in my head will never leave me and I understand that and will have to live with it.
People!! When is this shit going to stop? There is so much senseless killing going on in our world, and I’m not saying that I have the answers to fix it... but I am willing to do my part to help and find a solution.”
The Saints will honor Smith, who was to be inducted into the team’s hall of fame, with a public visitation at the Saints’ practice facility on Friday afternoon. A second-line parade will be held tonight, near the scene of his murder.