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New details from police help shed light on Smith’s shooting

Gabriella Ortiz
The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Many questions remain about the death of former Saints’ defensive end, Will Smith, but police have released new details that shed light on the incident, including that they found a weapon in the vehicle Smith was in the night he was shot.

Police have said Smith and his wife were shot by Cardell Hayes after a traffic altercation Saturday night. In a statement late Tuesday, police gave more details on the shooting of the New Orleans football star.

Among the news in the statement: A fully loaded .9 mm handgun was found in Smith’s vehicle; Hayes told police on the scene he was the shooter; police found a loaded revolver inside Hayes’ vehicle; and Smith had two other passengers in his vehicle in addition to his wife. Police did not say whether the gun found in Smith’s vehicle belonged to him or someone else.

Authorities said there was no evidence to suggest either weapon found during a search of the vehicles Tuesday morning was fired during the Saturday shooting. Instead, police said Hayes shot Smith with a different handgun.

“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. Smith’s wife was shot in the leg but survived and was taken to the hospital.

“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.

Police earlier had said they confiscated a weapon at the scene believed to have been used to shoot Smith, but until Tuesday had not said if any other weapons were found.

The statement Tuesday is the latest twist in a case that has riveted a city where Smith was a fan favorite. Police have said Smith and his wife were driving in the Lower Garden District, an upscale part of the city, when their Mercedes SUV was hit from behind by an orange Hummer driven by Hayes. The impact caused Smith to hit a grey Chevrolet Impala in which two friends of Smith were driving. No one was injured in the Impala.

At some point, Hayes — who played defense in a semi-pro football league — and Smith exchanged words, and that’s when police say Hayes pulled out a gun and opened fire, hitting Smith and his wife. Smith died with his door open, slumped over the driver’s seat.

A defense attorney for Hayes, John Fuller, has insisted that Hayes will be vindicated once the full story emerges, saying that someone “besides my client” was behaving in a threatening manner, although he hasn’t said who.

Fuller said Hayes was actually the victim of an earlier hit-and-run; he had called 911 and was following the vehicle that hit him to read the license plate number moments before the confrontation with Smith.

Surveillance video from businesses in New Orleans’ Lower Garden District shows what may have precipitated the deadly confrontation.

The surveillance video from Magazine Street shows what appears to be Smith’s Mercedes SUV bumping the rear of a Hummer stopped on a busy street.

The Hummer then pulls over but the Mercedes, rather than stop to inspect for any damage, pulls around it and drives away. Video captured moments later by a camera at a neighborhood bar shows what appears to be the Mercedes driving by, followed closely by the Hummer. The shooting happened at an intersection just past the bar.

Hayes, 28, is being held on $1 million bond.

Police also said Tuesday that they were reviewing surveillance videos from the neighborhood, and that they had obtained several videos that appeared to show a collision of the Mercedes and the Hummer prior to the shooting.

Other questions remain about that night. Police haven’t released the accounts of Racquel Smith, the passengers in the other cars, nor any other witnesses.

Meanwhile, the Saints and Smith’s family announced that 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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Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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