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Loaded Gun Found in Slain New Orleans Saints Player's Car: Police

Investigators recovered a loaded gun from the car New Orleans Saints player Will Smith was driving before he was fatally shot, police said Tuesday.
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New Orleans investigators recovered a loaded gun from the car that New Orleans Saints player Will Smith was driving before he was fatally shot, police said Tuesday.

Detectives found a fully-loaded 9 mm handgun inside the Mercedes Smith was driving when he was rear-ended by Cardell Hayes' Hummer Saturday evening, which police say resulted in the deadly altercation.

Detectives also found a fully-loaded revolver inside Hayes’ vehicle, according to a statement from New Orleans police.

No shell casings were found in either car, and ballistic evidence shows neither weapons were fired, the statement said.

Police had previously recovered a .45-caliber handgun at the scene, which they believe Hayes used in the fatal shooting.

Hayes, 38, has been charged with second-degree murder, but his lawyer said Hayes felt threatened and feared for his life after he was first rear-ended by Smith's car.

Lawyer John Fuller, who turned over the case Monday because of a conflict of interest, said Hayes’ Hummer was hit by a vehicle that didn’t stop so he followed it to get the license plate number.

The chase led to Hayes hitting Smith’s car, which in turn struck another vehicle, after which "all hell broke loose,” Fuller said.

New Orleans police said Hayes “produced” the gun and fired, hitting Smith and his wife — who survived — after a verbal altercation.

But Fuller on Monday said "events did not occur as they were initially spelled out by the police.” He said Hayes stayed at the scene and tried to get witnesses to stay too.

An attorney for the man who was a passenger in Hayes’ car, Kevin O'Neal, said his client believes Hayes defended both of them. “My client believes that Cardell saved his life. Smith had a gun and was going to shoot it and Cardell may have saved both of their lives,” said Tanzanike Ruffin. “In my mind this is justifiable homicide.”

Surveillance video recorded outside a New Orleans restaurant Saturday appears to show the initial incident where the Mercedes tapped the back of the Hummer and then swerved into oncoming traffic and sped away. The Hummer then pursued the Mercedes.

Smith’s father told NBC affiliate WRAL that he can’t imagine his son driving away from the scene of an accident or getting out of his car brandishing a gun. “He may have gotten out with a big mouth, but he did not get out with a gun,” said Will Smith Sr.

He said he thinks Hayes targeted Smith. “Did he kill my child? Yes he did. Can I forgive him? Yes I can,” said Smith Sr. “But am I going to forget it? I'll never forget it.”

Police said Tuesday that they were reviewing a few surveillance videos from the night of the shooting.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said he would not jump to conclusions about what incited the shooting. “My experiences as mayor tell me — wise to wait until you know the whole story,” he said.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of a passenger in Hayes' car. It's O'Neal, not Oneale.