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New Orleans mourns American footballer 'killed in road rage shooting'

Published 12/04/2016

Will Smith pictured playing for New Orleans Saints against Indianapolis Colts in 2011 (AP)
Will Smith pictured playing for New Orleans Saints against Indianapolis Colts in 2011 (AP)

People in New Orleans are trying to come to terms with the news that one of the city's most popular American footballers has been shot dead in what police claimed was a road rage incident.

Former New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith was shot in the back on Saturday night, in an attack that also left his wife with a wound to her leg.

Smith, 34, arrived in New Orleans in 2004 and played with such passion and power that he quickly became a defensive captain.

Off the field, he won hearts in his adopted city, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and rejuvenated when the Saints won the Super Bowl in 2009.

"I am telling you that this man loved the city of New Orleans," said Terrell Haynes, who knew Smith and his wife Racquel through their work with Kingsley House, an organisation helping underprivileged families and children.

"That's the part that is really disheartening, that this man loved this city."

Police said Cardell Hayes, a former semi-pro American football player, hit Smith's Mercedes G63 with his Humvee H2, pushing Smith's vehicle into a Chevrolet Impala carrying Smith's acquaintances, before Hayes opened fire.

A lawyer for Hayes, John Fuller, said there was more to the story, and his client would be vindicated once the full story emerged.

He said Hayes himself had been hit from behind moments earlier by a hit-and-run driver, and called 911 to describe the car he was following before he ran into the back of Smith's Mercedes.

The two men - both big and imposing - then angrily confronted each other on Felicity Street shortly before midnight. Moments later, witnesses heard gunfire. Smith was killed by bullets to the back and torso.

Police arrived quickly, handcuffing Hayes, while paramedics wheeled Racquel Smith away on a stretcher.

Hayes, 28, was being held on 1 million dollar (£702,000) bond after police arrested him on a charge of second-degree murder.

He was in court on Monday as arrangements were made for a new lawyer to eventually replace Mr Fuller, who will soon begin work as a temporary judge. Prosecutors now have 60 days to decide how to proceed.

Police plan to add a charge accusing Hayes of shooting Racquel Smith, spokesman Tyler Gamble said.

The news was hard on many who had followed Smith's career.

The New York City native came to New Orleans from Ohio State, and created his share of highlights, particularly in the 2009 run to the Super Bowl.

Smith was preparing for his second season when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, south-east Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2005.

Local radio broadcaster Eric Asher said Smith became a team leader after the storm, convincing others that the 2006 season was about more than getting more wins on the field.

"He had been in New Orleans before the storm. He'd dealt with the aftermath of the storm. He understood that football was really secondary here - this was about uplifting the entire region," he said.

"He was always a guy who was a leader on and off the field for this team."

Those ties endured after Smith retired. He continued to live in suburban Kenner with his wife and three children, coaching his son Wynter's American football team while studying business administration at the University of Miami.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been made public.

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From Belfast Telegraph