NEW ORLEANS — Former New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith was shot dead Saturday night in an apparent traffic altercation, authorities said.
He was 34.
Smith was picked in the first round of the NFL draft in 2004 and was on the Super Bowl-winning team in 2010.
Hours before the shooting, he tweeted that he was “having a blast” Saturday night at the French Quarter Fest, an annual event in the famed New Orleans district.
Smith’s former team confirmed his death, and expressed its condolences.
“A senseless and tragic loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with Will Smith — his wife Racquel — his children William, Wynter and Lisa,” said Greg Bensel, the Saints’ vice president of communications.
Man in custody
New Orleans police said Smith and his wife were both shot in an apparent traffic altercation late Saturday night near Magazine Street in the city’s Lower Garden District. They’ve identified the suspect as Cardell Hayes
Smith and his wife were in their car when a Hummer hit them from behind, causing their car to rear-end another vehicle in front of them.
Smith and the Hummer driver, Hayes, got into a confrontation, police said. Hayes allegedly shot him multiple times and Smith’s wife twice in the leg. She was transported to a local hospital.
The 28-year-old Hummer driver stayed on the scene, and the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office has now charged him with second-degree murder. Bond has not yet been set in the case, and “the investigation is ongoing,” a police spokesman said.
Abutting the Mississippi River, the neighborhood is known for its historic homes, some of which date back to the early 19th century. Lee Circle, a popular gathering spot during the city’s Mardi Gras celebration, sits on the neighborhood’s edge.
It’s a relatively low-crime area, especially when compared to Central City to its west and the Central Business District and French Quarter to its north. Of more than 500 crimes reported in New Orleans in the last week, only a handful occurred in the Lower Garden District, most of them thefts, though there was one assault reported Friday, according to the city’s crime map.
Smith’s family posted a message on his Facebook page, saying, “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.”
Smith’s former teammates and other NFL players took to Twitter to mourn his loss.
Mark Ingram, a Heisman-winning running back at Alabama who was drafted by the Saints in 2011, said he was “devastated.”
Former Saints player Reggie Bush tweeted “life is too short” following reports of Smith’s death.
Smith ranks fourth among the Saints’ all-time sack leaders and is considered one of the franchise’s great defensive players.
Before joining New Orleans, the New York native was a standout at Ohio State University, earning All-American honors and helping the school win the BCS championship in 2002.
After college, Smith was selected in the first round by the Saints in 2004 and received a Pro Bowl nomination in 2006. Smith had a career-high 13 sacks in the 2009 regular season, the season the Saints won the Super Bowl.
Two years later, though, he was one of four Saints players caught up in the so-called “bountygate” scandal. Smith was suspended for four games.
He was released by New Orleans in 2014, then briefly signed by the New England Patriots but cut before the season began.
Smith’s foundation, Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way, helped to serve high school athletes in his hometown Utica, New York. He also sat on the advisory board of The Artists and Athletes Alliance.
His last public Facebook post shows him at the United Nations on Wednesday, the same day the world body observed the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace.
He wrote on his personal website that he wanted to be an FBI agent following his football career.AlertMe