Former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith was shot and killed in an apparent road rage confrontation Saturday night, allegedly by a local football player with a middling career, police said.
The Queens-born Smith, whose Saints legacy includes a 2009 Super Bowl win, was killed following a three-car crash in New Orleans that led to gunfire, according to authorities.
Suspected shooter Cardell Hayes, 28, rear-ended his Hummer H2 intoSmith’s Mercedes Benz SUV around 11:30 p.m. Hayes and Smith exchanged words, which escalted into Hayes pulling out a handgun and opening fire, police said.
Smith, 34, died on the scene from multiple gunshot wounds. His wife, Racquel Joseph Smith, was hospitalized after two bullets struck her leg.
Hayes stayed at the crime scene until police arrived and arrested him. He has been charged with second-degree murder.
The former pro’s death came just days after he returned to Queens to visit family and see his sister-in-law renew her wedding vows.
His uncle Herbert Smith— wearing a Saints jersey with Smith’s number, 91, at his St. Albans home Sunday— broke down in tears while recalling his nephew’s final visit home.
“He grew up,” the uncle said, gesturing at his house.
“He was a great guy. A good dude. He’d do anything for you.”
He said he planned to visit New Orleans in May to see his nephew get inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame.
Smith leaves behind three children he had with his wife.
Hisdeath brought a bloody end to what otherwise seemed like a joyous day with family and friends.
Saturday morning, Smith posted a photo on Instagram showing him and his wife at the French Quarter Fest.
That night, the couple and several friends — including fellow former Saints player Pierrer Thomas — dined for nearly two hours at the Sake Cafe restaurant, where Smith was a regular.
“He was definitely in high spirits,” general manager David Matherne told the Daily News.
“They were all having fun, having lots of sushi, laughing at the table.”
Also in the group was Billy Ceravolo, a retired New Orleans police officer and long-time friend of Smith. He snapped a picture with Smith and Thomas about an hour before the shooting.
In a bizarre coincidence,Ceravolo was a defendant in a lawsuit filed nearly a decade ago by Hayes, the man now charged with Smith’s killing. Hayes sued the city and several police officers in 2006 for the fatal police shooting of his father Anthony Hayes, a mentally ill man who confronted cops with a knife. The city settled the suit on undisclosed terms in 2011, according to court records.
Caravolo told the Daily News there is “absolutely not” any connection between the suit and the shooting.
Hayes was named by Tiger Sports Digest in 2004 as one of Louisiana’s top 50 football prospects. But after graduating high school in 2005, he appears to have never been recruited by a college. As of last year, he was playing with the localCrescent City Kings development team, according to its website. He also made a brief appearance as an extra in the hit comedy “22 Jump Street,” in a football game scene.
Hayes had pleaded guilty in 2014 to illegal carrying of a weapon and drug paraphernalia, and was sentenced to six months probation, court records show.
Smith’s death shocked his former Saints teammates and NFL colleagues.Saints spokesman Greg Bensel called the shootinga “senseless and tragic loss.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Will Smith — his wife Racquel — his children William, Wynter and Lisa,” Bensel wrote in a tweet.
The Saints called the killing “a tragic and preventable death” in an emotional statement mourning the former player.
“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,” the statement said.
“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.”
Smith’s family asked to grieve privately in a brief statement.
“On behalf of the Smith family, we are thankful for the outpouring of support and prayers,” the statement said.
“We asked that you continue to respect the family’s privacy as they grieve the loss of a devoted husband, father and friend.”
The defensive end, who played collegiately at Ohio State, spent the first 10 seasons of his pro career in New Orleans after the Saints drafted him in the first round of the 2004 draft.