April 13, 2016 / 5:17 PM / a year ago

NFL star Will Smith was shot eight times

NFL player Will Smith and convicted criminal Cardell Hayes.Files

(Reuters) - Retired NFL player Will Smith, who was killed during the weekend after a traffic collision in New Orleans, was shot in the back several times in an apparent homicide, the city coroner said on Wednesday.

Smith, 34, one of the National Football League's top defensive ends while playing for the New Orleans Saints, had a fully loaded 9mm handgun in his Mercedes SUV when he was shot dead late Saturday by Cardell Hayes, 28, who was driving a Hummer, according to police.

Surveillance video posted online by news media outlets showed a Mercedes SUV that appears to slightly bump a Hummer from behind. The Hummer then pulled over toward the curb while the Mercedes drove off. The Hummer then followed in pursuit.

Hayes' Hummer then rear-ended Smith's Mercedes, media reports said. Police said that led to an exchange of words and the shooting.

Police said the 9mm gun had been recovered from Smith's Mercedes and that there was no indication that it had been fired during the incident.

The gun was in a compartment in the vehicle the entire time of the incident, lawyer Peter Thomson said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Smith's wife, Racquel, was shot in the leg and taken to the hospital, police said.

Hayes, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to gun and drug charges, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder, police said on Sunday. Police said they recovered the weapon used in the shooting.

Smith's death has been preliminarily classified as a homicide, a medical determination, a statement from New Orleans Coroner Jeffrey Rouse said.

Smith died at the scene of the shooting after being hit seven times in the back and once in the left lateral chest wall, the statement said. Many of the bullets perforated his vital organs, including the lungs and heart.

An analysis will be conducted to determine if there were any substances in Smith's system when he died, the statement said.

Investigators still were trying to determine whether the shooting was a case of road rage or whether there was another motive.

A male passenger was inside Hayes' car during the incident and was released after he cooperated with detectives, police said. Another male and female were inside Smith's vehicle.

Smith played a decade with the Saints before he was injured in 2013 and his contract was terminated in 2014. He was a prominent member of the 2010 Saints team that won the Super Bowl.

(Corrects headline, paragraph 1 and paragraph 10 to show Smith shot seven times in the back and once in the left lateral chest wall, not shot eight times in the back.)

Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Bill Trott

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