NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A 9 mm handgun, loaded but unfired, was inside the Mercedes SUV of former Saints defensive end Will Smith when he stepped out to confront a Hummer driver carrying a 45-caliber gun the night he was killed, police have now revealed.
Cardell Hayes had chased after Smith and rear-ended the SUV after the NFL veteran apparently tapped the Hummer’s bumper in Saturday night traffic and drove away rather than pull over to inspect for damage. Both men then got out and exchanged angry words, but only Hayes was armed, and moments after firing his handgun, he acknowledged to police that he was the shooter.
Police also found a second loaded gun — a revolver — inside Hayes’ Hummer, but said that there was no evidence it was fired, either.
As for the gun in the SUV, police didn’t say who it belonged to; there were two other passengers in Smith’s vehicle in addition to his wife. Smith died with his feet on the ground and his body inside his car. His wife was hot in the leg and hospitalized.
“During the argument, Hayes produced a 45-caliber handgun and opened fire, striking Smith and his wife. No one else was injured in the gunfire,” police said in the statement released late Tuesday.
“Hayes was on the scene when officers arrived and identified himself as the shooter. Detectives detained and questioned Hayes. Based on the interview and evidence gathered from the scene, detectives arrested Hayes and booked him with Second Degree Murder. An additional charge for Smith’s wife’s injury is pending further investigation,” the statement said.
The statement Tuesday is the latest twist in a case that has riveted a city where Smith was a fan favorite.
Hayes, 28, is being held on $1 million bond, but defense attorney John Fuller has insisted he will be vindicated once the full story emerges. He said someone “besides my client” was behaving in a threatening manner that night, although he hasn’t said who.
Fuller also said that Hayes was the victim of an earlier hit-and-run, and had called 911 and was following the vehicle that hit him to read the license plate number moments before the confrontation with Smith.
Police also said Tuesday that they had obtained several videos that appear to show a collision of the Mercedes and the Hummer prior to the shooting. On surveillance video from businesses on Magazine Street that was broadcast on local TV, a Mercedes SUV bumps the rear of a Hummer, then pulls around it and drives away.
Other questions remain. Police haven’t released the accounts of Racquel Smith, nor any other witnesses.
A public visitation will be held Friday to honor Smith and a private funeral and burial will be held Saturday.
Smith came to New Orleans from Ohio State and quickly became a team leader. After retirement, he chose to stay in his adopted community, showing his commitment to the city as it recovered from Hurricane Katrina and supporting a foundation that helped women and children.
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