Local News

Father of former Saint Will Smith says his son was caring man

Posted April 12, 2016 6:20 p.m. EDT
Updated April 12, 2016 6:56 p.m. EDT

— Three days after his son was killed in a road-rage shooting in New Orleans, the father of former NFL defensive lineman Will Smith is remembering his son as a caring man who wanted to help people.

“He was a productive young man who cared for other people,” Will Smith Sr. said of his son. “I will miss his smile, his demeanor and his thoughtfulness.”

Smith, who played nine seasons for the Saints, was shot and killed Saturday by a man who had rear-ended his car, police said

Authorities said Cardell Hayes’ Humvee H2 rear-ended Smith’s Mercedes G63 around 11:30 p.m. Saturday in the Lower Garden District in New Orleans, pushing Smith’s SUV into a Chevrolet Impala carrying acquaintances of Smith.

Police said Hayes, 28, and Smith, 34, argued on Felicity Street before Hayes shot Smith and his wife, Racquel. Smith was killed by two bullets, hitting him in the back and torso; his wife was shot in the leg and transported to a local hospital.

Smith’s father, Will Smith Sr., who moved to Durham in 2005, said he spoke with his son the day he died and recently had a family dinner with him in New York on April 6.

Smith Sr. said he initially heard about incident from a news report on his brother’s iPad in New York. Smith moved from Queens to Utica—where he played high school football before joining the Ohio State Buckeyes in college—after his mother died when he was 3 years old.

“He was a person who wanted to help people,” Smith Sr. said. “He felt fortunate enough to see what his position was, and that he was in a position to help others.”

Smith Sr. said he has a wall in his home of all the family members who have died.

“Those are my family members who have moved on to a new life,” he said. “I have to add my child to that wall. I went to sleep one night with six children, and I woke up with five children.”

The Queens, N.Y., native was selected No. 18 overall in the 2008 NFL Draft and played all nine seasons with the Saints. Smith helped New Orleans claim its only Super Bowl title in 2009.

Smith did not know the Hayes before the deadly shooting, authorities said.

Police said Hayes waited for authorities to arrive after the shooting and was charged with second-degree murder. Authorities said they plan to add an additional charged accusing Hayes of shooting Racquel Smith.

Hayes’ bond was set at $1 million on Sunday evening.

“I have raised a young man, a productive citizen, a person that cares about others. That was my job as a parent,” Smith Sr. said.

Smith’s successful professional career was also hindered by off-the-field incidents.

He was suspended four games in 2012 for his role in a locker-room pool that paid cash bonuses for heavy or injurious hits on opposing players. Smith was also suspended two games in 2011 for using a banned weight-loss diuretic.

Prior to the 2011 season, Smith was indicted on misdemeanor charges of domestic abuse battery and public intoxication after officers allegedly witnessed Smith grab Racquel Smith’s hair during an argument.

Smith’s charges were eventually dropped after he went through counseling and community service.

Smith Sr. said he is upset people are attempting to tarnish his son’s reputation now that he’s dead by making it seem like he provoked this situation.

“My son may have gotten out of his car with a big mouth, but he did not get out with a gun,” he said.

Smith had a concealed carry permit in his vehicle, according to his father.

"I can forgive him [Hayes] for killing my child, but he killed my child—I will never forget,” Smith Sr. said. “Nobody has the right to kill anyone."

Allegations have surfaced since the incident suggesting that Smith had too much to drink leading up to the shooting.

“Will [Smith] had dinner with police officers; they would never let him drive drunk,” Smith Sr. said. “I have been out with my son. My son will not drive his vehicle when he gets to a certain limit.

“I know there is no way in this world that my child would have gotten behind the wheel knowing he was too impaired to drive.”

Smith Sr. said he also believes his son may have been targeted because he was at dinner with a police officer named in the lawsuit Hayes filed against the city in his father’s death 11 years ago.

“I believe this gentleman [Hayes] saw my child, saw the police officers, and my child came out of the club or a restaurant—wherever they were coming out of—and they pursued him,” Smith Sr. said.

“Did he get out of the car with the intent of killing my child? I don’t think so,” he said. “Did he kill my child—yes he did. Can I forgive him—yes I can. But am I going forget it? I’ll never forget it.”