On the night of Dec. 26, 2005, at a Walgreen’s in the Garden District of Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, 38-year-old Anthony Hayes got into a loud dispute with a cashier when his credit card was declined. An off-duty sheriff’s officer saw him leave the store with a knife in his hand—a small knife, according to reports— and called the New Orleans police.
According to a subsequent lawsuit filed by Hayes’ two children, “several witnesses” told police that Hayes had a history of mental illness. At least six policemen surrounded him on St. Charles Avenue and ordered him several times to drop the knife. One of the officers got close enough to pepper spray him. The officers of the budget-challenged NOPD didn’t have a Taser among them. When Hayes charged at Lt. William Ceravalo, three of the officers—not Ceravalo—thought their only recourse was to shoot Hayes, which they proceeded to do nine times.
None of the officers was charged in the shooting and death of Anthony Hayes.
Six months after the shooting, Hayes’ children, Cardell, then 18, and Tyiece Baptiste-Howard, filed a lawsuit seeking $4 million in damages. At the time, Cardell was a prep-school football star at Warren Easton High School, ranked among the top Louisiana prospects and included on Scout.com’s Louisiana Fab 50 for the Class of 2005. Some who knew him would later say that the combination of the de-emphasis on football in the wake of Katrina—the New Orleans school district was closed the entire school year—and the shock of his father’s death derailed his dreams of a football career.
Cardell Hayes’ ambition was to play on the defensive line for the New Orleans Saints, who that year were one of the few sources of inspiration for the community, though they were forced to play their home games in Baton Rouge and even San Antonio.
The standout on the Saints defensive line in 2005 was Will Smith, who had been a rookie the season before. Born on the Fourth of July in 1981 and raised in Utica, in upstate New York, Smith was a natural football player. The top defensive line prospect in the state and the 18th pick in 2004 NFL draft, he was heavily recruited by more than a dozen top football programs, including Alabama and Notre Dame. He chose Ohio State, where he earned a national championship ring in 2002. Even as a rookie in New Orleans, Smith loved the city and began work with several organizations that helped troubled youth, a problem that exploded in the aftermath of Katrina.
The Hayes lawsuit against the NOPD was finally settled in 2011. Cardell and his sister had initially asked for $4 million, were offered $80,000 each, made a counteroffer of $125,000 each and settled for an undisclosed amount. With his share of the money, did Cardell Hayes purchase the orange Hummer H2 that he was often seen driving around town?
This past Saturday night, about 11:30 p.m., Hayes was driving his Hummer on Sophie Wright Place in the Garden District when he allegedly rear-ended a silver Mercedes Benz SUV, pushing that vehicle into a Chevrolet Impala. All the vehicles screeched to a halt.
The Mercedes was driven by Will Smith, whose wife Racquel was with him. Smith had retired from the Saints in 2014, but he and his wife felt a strong commitment to New Orleans and continued to make it their home with their three children. Their foundation—Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way—provides support for at-risk children in New Orleans and in Smith’s home town of Utica. Smith had also played an active role in several support groups for families in addition to hosting annual Christmas dinners at the Saints’ practice facility.
New Orleans was celebrating the annual City Fest, and the Smiths had just been to dinner with a retired New Orleans police captain, William Ceravolo. Ceravolo had continued after retirement to work with troubled youth, including projects with Smith and his foundation.
Not much has been released by the NOPD about what ensued, although there were apparently several witnesses. According to police reports and the Times-Picayune, Cardell Hayes, who was in possession of a semi-automatic handgun, left his Hummer, “exchanged words” with Smith, who was still in his car, and allegedly fired several shots through the windshield. Smith’s wife left the car screaming, and Hayes allegedly shot her twice in the leg. Smith died at the scene, slumped over the steering wheel.
Hayes probably had no way of knowing that the man he killed was the player he had watched and idolized when he was a high-school football star.
On his Facebook page, Hayes claimed to have been a student at the University of New Orleans, but the university told the Times-Picayune they had no record of his having attended. Little is known of his post-high school activities; on Facebook he said that his hobby was raising pit bulls. Whether because of Katrina or the death of his father or reasons unknown, Cardell Hayes’ football career never happened. Last year he played football for a local semi-pro team, the Crescent City Kings.
Smith was 34 years old, Hayes is just 28. Details have not been released on what exactly was said at the scene of the accident that caused Hayes to allegedly become unhinged. From a distance, he seems to fit the profile of the kind of youth that Smith and Ceravolo had been working to help.
Will Smith died near the intersection of Felicity and Sophie Wright Place in the relatively low crime Garden District. The corner is about the length of three football fields from Felicity and Sophie Wright Place, where Cardell Hayes’ father was shot by police as he charged officer William Ceravolo.