Former New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith, a key player on the team's Super Bowl win in 2010 and an ex-player beloved in the city, was shot and killed on his way back from dinner late Saturday night, according to police.
Smith, 34, was accompanied by his wife at the time of the incident, and she was also injured by the barrage of bullets directed at the couple, but is expected to survive after suffering a bullet wound to the leg, reports CBS affiliate WWL-TV in New Orleans.
Smith, who played for a decade for the Saints, was shot after a three car accident in the city's Lower Garden District. Police told WWL that a Hummer H2 rear-ended Smith's Mercedes-Benz SUV causing Smith's vehicle to rear-end another car driven by one of his friends.
Smith exited his vehicle around 11:30 p.m. Saturday night and started arguing with the driver of the hummer.
The Hummer driver has been identified by officials say as 29-year-old Cardell Hayes. The Associated Press reports online court records show Hayes pleaded guilty in 2014 to one count each of possessing an illegal weapon and possessing drug paraphernalia. Hayes has been charged with second-degree murder.
There was no indication Smith knew Hayes before the deadly confrontation, or that anything except the car wreck led to the shooting. Hayes waited for police to arrive after the shooting and was arrested. Police Superintendent Michael Harrison would not say whether Hayes claimed self-defense, citing the ongoing investigation.
Harrison said the former defensive end had dined just hours before the Saturday night crash with a police officer who had once been sued by Hayes, whose father was shot and killed by police in 2005. However, it was not clear if that played any role in the confrontation.
A magistrate set bond at $1 million Sunday evening for Hayes.
Defense attorney John Fuller asked for low bond, noting that Fuller had waited for police, owns a towing business and is raising his 5-year-old son.
Magistrate Brigid Collins said she understood that, but added, "I've also got a gentleman who was shot in the back."
The gun he had was legal, Fuller said after Sunday's hearing, noting that police didn't accuse him of any weapons charge. Police spokesman Tyler Gamble said the gun hadn't been reported stolen, but tracing its actual history takes more time.
Hayes is not guilty of murder, Fuller said. "The story that's real is different from the story that's being put out there," he said.
Saints owner Tom Benson said in a statement Sunday: "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. 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."
Friends and former players to took social media to express shock and sadness at the incident.
Smith, a native of Queens, New York, played for Ohio State's 2002 national championship team and was a first-round draft choice by New Orleans in 2004.
He led the Saints with a career-high 13 sacks in 2009, when the club won its only Super Bowl. Smith's career sack total ranks fourth in Saints history. He had 457 career tackles, 20 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and two interceptions.
He last played in an NFL regular season game in 2012, finishing his career with 67 ½ sacks.
During the 2013 preseason, a knee injury forced him onto injured reserve. He was signed in the 2014 offseason by New England but did not make the Patriots' regular season roster.
Smith was defensive captain for much of his career, but it was also that leadership role that landed him at the center of the NFL's bounty probe in 2012. The league concluded that Smith and fellow defensive captain Jonathan Vilma helped run a locker-room pool that paid cash bonuses for heavy and even injurious hits.
Smith was initially suspended four games by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, but Smith and three other implicated players successfully appealed their suspensions and were never compelled to miss games, even as Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended the entire 2012 season.
A year earlier, however, Smith did have to serve a two-game suspension that stemmed from findings back in 2008 that he and several other NFL players had used a weight-loss product called StarCaps, which contained a diuretic that had been banned by the league because it was known to mask steroid use. That suspension was enforced after legal challenges the spanned several seasons.
Off the field, Smith took an active role in trying to improve the lives of children in New Orleans. He established a foundation called, Where There's A Will, There's A Way, in 2007. Its stated mission is "to motivate, educate and provide opportunities for women and children."
After football, he settled in Louisiana, his wife's native state. His shooting came during the weekend of the French Quarter festival, a popular festival featuring local music and food.
Smith leaves behind his wife, Racquel, and three children.
In a statement, Smith's family thanked supporters and asked for privacy.
In a statement, the New Orleans Saints said: "Just as important though to the driving force and outstanding player that Smith was on the field, several important charitable causes were just as big winners on behalf of his generosity as the entire Saints organization, coaches, players and fans were of his gameday accomplishments."
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