American football star killed in apparent road-rage shooting

American football star killed in apparent road-rage shooting

Former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith has been shot and killed in what appeared to be a road rage incident that has shocked fans of the much-loved athlete.

New Orleans city coroner Jeffrey C Rouse said Smith died "of multiple gunshot wounds" after a road accident in the city's Lower Garden District on Saturday.

Smith was aged 34.

Saints' owner Tom Benson and family released a statement mourning the loss of a player who had been their number one draft pick in 2004.

"The Saints family is hurting and devastated as it has lost a member too young and too soon," the statement said.

A statement issued on behalf of Smith's family said: "We are thankful for the outpouring of support and prayers.

"We ask that you continue to respect the family's privacy as they grieve the loss of a devoted husband, father and friend."

Smith was driving a Mercedes late on Saturday when his vehicle was hit from behind by an orange Hummer H2, police said.

That caused Smith's vehicle to hit a grey Chevrolet Impala in front of him.

Two acquaintances of Smith's were in the Impala but they were not injured.

New Orleans Police Department spokesman Tyler Gamble said Cardell Hayes, 28, was driving the Hummer.

At some point in the ensuing incident, Smith and Hayes exchanged words, police said. Hayes is then alleged to have pulled out a gun and shot Smith multiple times. He died at the scene.

Smith's wife, who was travelling with him, was shot in the leg and taken to hospital.

Police said they recovered the weapon and took Hayes into custody. He has now been charged with second-degree murder.

Smith's death shocked football fans across the Crescent City, where he was a loved and respected figure both on and off the field.

Smith, a native of Queens, New York, played for Ohio State's 2002 national championship team and was a first-round draft choice by New Orleans in 2004.

He led the Saints with a career-high 13 sacks in 2009, when the club won its only Super Bowl. Smith's career sack total ranks fourth in Saints history.

He had 457 career tackles, 20 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and two interceptions.

He last played in an NFL regular season game in 2012, finishing his career with 67.5 sacks.

During the 2013 pre-season, a knee injury forced him on to injured reserve. He was signed in the 2014 off season by New England but did not make the Patriots' regular season roster.

Smith was defensive captain for much of his career, but it was also that leadership role that landed him at the center of the NFL's bounty probe in 2012.

The league concluded that Smith and fellow defensive captain Jonathan Vilma helped run a locker-room pool that paid cash bonuses for heavy and even injurious hits.

Smith was initially suspended for four games by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, but Smith and three other implicated players successfully appealed their suspensions and were never compelled to miss games, even as Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended the entire 2012 season.

A year earlier, however, Smith did have to serve a two-game suspension that stemmed from findings back in 2008 that he and several other NFL players had used a weight-loss product called StarCaps, which contained a diuretic that had been banned by the league because it was known to mask steroid use. That suspension was enforced after legal challenges the spanned several seasons.

Smith leaves behind his wife, Racquel, and three children.

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