Brian Allee-Walsh

Smith's death opens debate for stricter gun control laws

Brian Alee Walsh

Special to the Sun Herald

Some might argue that this is not the proper time to debate the merits of stricter gun control laws, nor demand increased police presence on our city's streets, especially so soon after the fatal shooting of former New Orleans Saints Pro Bowl defensive lineman Will Smith.

So you tell me: When is the right time? Before or after the next senseless gun-related death? Or, is there any solution to the ongoing epidemic, any middle ground at all, that we can agree on?

I am sick and tired of hearing guns don't kill, people do. Tell that to Smith's surviving wife, Racquel, who was wounded in the incident, and their three young children.

As background, Smith and his wife reportedly ran afoul of a man shortly before midnight Saturday after they were involved in a multi-car accident in the city's Lower Garden District.

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According to authorities, the alleged shooter is 30-year-old Cardell Hayes, whose Hummer H2 rear-ended Smith's Mercedes G63 SUV Hummer, which sent Smith's vehicle barreling into a third car. The two men exchanged words and Hayes allegedly shot Smith and his wife.

Smith, 34, was pronounced dead at the scene. Racquel Smith was transported to a local hospital where she is recovering from non-life threatening injuries to her right leg.

Hayes remained at the scene and was taken into custody by police who arrived within minutes after the incident. He has been booked with second-degree murder and was expected to make his initial court appearance Sunday.

Authorities are exploring the possibility that Smith, the Saints No. 1 pick in 2004 who played at a very high level in New Orleans before his retirement in 2012, and Hayes have a past. Where that probe leads is unknown.

What is known is Hayes once sued New Orleans police after they shot and killed his father in late 2005. Hayes is said to have received a "large'' settlement in 2011 from that federal lawsuit.

One of the defendants mentioned in that lawsuit had dined with Smith and his wife Saturday night.

Prayers and condolences poured in Sunday from friends, former Ohio State and Saints teammates and coaches and other well-intentioned leaders, such as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu who called the killing "a tragic loss of life'' and "senseless.''

It is on both counts.

Ironically, only hours before Smith's death, New Orleans voters rejected a proposal to hike property taxes, that if passed, would have expanded the Police Department and theoretically helped to improve public safety.

Voters did approve a proposal Saturday that will throw more money toward street repairs, ensuring smoother rides perhaps but offering no promise of safer streets.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

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