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Former Saints Player Will Smith Fatally Shot During Road Rage Incident

NEW ORLEANS (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith was shot and killed Saturday in what appeared to be a road rage incident that has shocked fans of the much-loved athlete.

Coroner Jeffrey C. Rouse said in an emailed statement that Smith died of "multiple gunshot wounds" after a traffic accident in the city's Lower Garden District. The former defensive end was 34 years old.

Cardell Hayes, 28, was arrested on a charge of second-degree murder in Smith's death, New Orleans Police Department spokesman Tyler Gamble said Sunday. Police said Hayes was the driver of a Humvee H2 that rear-ended Smith's Mercedes G63 about 11:30 p.m. Saturday. A passenger in Hayes' vehicle was questioned and released, he said.

Gamble said the investigation was continuing. Online court records show Hayes pleaded guilty in 2014 to one count each of possessing an illegal weapon and possessing drug paraphernalia.

A tweet from the verified account of Greg Bensel, Saints vice president of communications and broadcasting, expressed condolences to Smith's family.

Smith appeared to be the victim of a road rage accident.

The former defensive end was driving through an upscale part of the city called the Lower Garden District when his car was rear-ended and pushed into a Chevrolet Impala occupied by two acquaintances of Smith's, police said. The acquaintances were not injured.

Police said Smith and Hayes argued and Hayes pulled out a gun, shooting Smith and Smith's wife. Racquel Smith, 33, was hit in the leg and taken to a hospital; Smith died at the scene.

Police said they arrived on the scene at around 11:29 p.m. and found Smith in the middle of the street, partially inside his vehicle. He died on the scene, they said.

Police said they recovered the weapon and took Hayes into custody.

"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," the Smith family told CBS New Orleans affiliate WWL-TV in a statement.

Smith, 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.

He last played in an NFL regular season game in 2012, finishing his career with 67 1/2 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.

The Saints said in a statement that the organization is "devastated."

"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. 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," the organization said in a statement.

Saints head coach Sean Payton called it a "senseless passing."

Several former teammates took to Twitter to remember Smith.

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.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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