Suspect in Will Smith shooting death was former prep star

Sunday's booking photo of Cardell Hayes from the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office.

AP

New Orleans Police Department spokesman Tyler Gamble on Sunday identified Cardell Hayes, 28, as a suspect in the shooting death of former New Orleans Saints DE Will Smith.

Gamble said the investigation was ongoing but did not release further details. Online court records show Hayes pleaded guilty in 2014 to one count each of possessing an illegal weapon and possessing drug paraphernalia.

According to NOLA.com, Hayes was a former Louisiana prep football player, who starred at Warren Easton High School and played for a developmental team locally as recently as last year.

He was considered one of the state’s top prospects during his high school days, but his freshman season would have come in 2005 and likely disrupted by Hurricane Katrina.

Hayes also sued the New Orleans Police Department in 2005 over his father’s shooting death at the hands of police. The high-profile suit was settled in 2011, and one of the officers named as a defendant was having dinner with Smith just before the shooting occurred, according to The Advocate

Here’s an image of retired police captain William Ceravolo with former Saints RB Pierre Thomas and Smith, purportedly to be from their dinner shortly before the shooting.

Hayes’ attorney in that suit said Hayes received a "large" settlement in that case, in confirming this story to The Advocate. He apparently is not representing Hayes now, however.

While Hayes asked for $4 million in that suit, NOLA.com says the terms being discussed just before the settlement were much lower. Theiir report says the city offered $80,000 apiece for Hayes and his sister and the pair countered with a demand for $125,000 each.

Hayes used the nickname "Bear" on his Facebook page and recently posted photos that claimed he was an extra — as a football player in a stadium scene — in the movie "22 Jump Street," according to the New York Daily News.

Smith, the former defensive end for the Saints, was driving in a Mercedes late Saturday through an upscale part of the city called the Lower Garden District when his vehicle was hit from behind by Hayes’ vehicle, an orange Hummer H2, police said.

That caused Smith’s vehicle to hit a gray Chevrolet Impala in front of him. Two acquaintances of Smith’s were in the Impala but not injured.

At some point in the ensuing incident, Smith and Hayes — the driver of the Hummer — exchanged words, police said. That’s when police say Hayes pulled out a gun and shot Smith multiple times. He also shot Smith’s wife in the leg, but she was taken for treatment at a local hospital.

Police said they recovered the weapon and took Hayes into custody. NOLA.com says he’s been charged with second-degree murder.

In New Orleans and around the NFL, tributes to Smith poured in early Sunday.

(Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.)