At Lance’s Barbershop on Ursulines Avenue, Saints posters cover the walls, and a list of house rules is stuck to a mirrored wall.
Rule No. 1: “No disrespecting the New Orleans Saints.”
Rule No. 2: “No weapons.”
Cardell “Bear” Hayes — all 6 feet, 4 inches and 305 pounds of him — would duck through the barbershop’s front door just about every day to hang out and shoot the breeze, staying a few minutes or maybe hours, friends said.
He was known to order a pizza in advance from his red Hummer so it would be there when he arrived.
Hayes was at the barbershop Saturday night, his friends said, about an hour before he is accused of firing eight bullets into former Saints lineman Will Smith, seven in the back, amid a volatile altercation in the Lower Garden District.
Earlier Saturday, barber Anthony Williams had trimmed his beard.
Not long before 11 p.m. Saturday, “Bear’s on the phone smiling. He’s like, ‘House party Uptown!’ ” said Lance Rouzan, the shop’s owner. “We work all week. Friday and Saturday nights, we have fun. He said, ‘I’ma let you know how it looks in 15 minutes.’ ”
But Hayes never called again. About 11:30 p.m., an argument broke out after a three-car crash. Smith, a Super Bowl champion, father and husband, was shot dead. His wife was shot twice in the legs.
Hayes, a decorated former high school football player at Warren Easton who played last year for the Crescent City Kings, of the Gridiron Developmental Football League, placed a handgun on his Hummer and waited for police.
None of the friends in the 6th Ward barbershop were around when the gunfire erupted on Sophie Wright Place.
Kevin O’Neal, Hayes’ friend and his passenger that night, has been lying low since the shooting, they said.
But while Hayes sits in jail on a second-degree murder count, his friends said the public portrayals of him — an attorney for Smith’s widow described him as “enraged or deranged” at the time of the shooting and a “cold-blooded murderer” — don’t match the gentle giant they know.
“Cardell is not that guy. I agree his stature would scare the (stuff) out of you. He’s a massive man. But once you shake his hand, you’re his friend,” said Williams, the barber. “This guy was joking, literally having fun right before this incident happened.”
His friends described Hayes as a working man devoted to his 5-year-old son, C.J. He raised American bulldogs, bought and sold used cars and ran a tow truck business while keeping his football dreams alive.
He also worked security jobs for celebrities or events, but he turned down a chance to work security at the Gulf Coast Spring Fest in Biloxi, Mississippi, last weekend, deciding to stay in town, Williams said.
“This is such a good dude, mild-mannered, intelligent, not a dumb football player,” Rouzan said.
“We talk about bettering ourselves, opportunity, trying to provide for our kids. All the time,” said Lester Armstrong, 29.
“We don’t involve ourselves with people who are involved in violence. We’re not kids anymore. That lifestyle is nowhere around here,” said Ron Chaplin, 34.
Hayes was part of that group, the friends said, and wouldn’t have been welcome in the barbershop if he were the man whom Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu claimed to know as “a hating ass coward.”
Mathieu’s social-media comment particularly irked the group at Lance’s Barbershop, who said there’s no way Hayes would have fired his gun without provocation.
“I wasn’t there. I just know the person,” Armstrong said. “Being a ‘hating ass coward’ is completely false. He wasn’t that at all.”
Hayes, 28, has a single criminal conviction stemming from a 2010 arrest in Mid-City.
Early on Aug. 1, 2010, police spotted him near police headquarters, making a turn without a signal in a red 2002 Chevy SUV. They pulled him over, and he told the officers he had a gun in the car, according to the report.
Police said they found a .45-caliber Ruger P345 pistol with a fully loaded magazine inside the vehicle, as well as two orange prescription bottles.
“Hayes advised the officers he bought the firearm from his ‘partner’ and the pills are Tylenol, which were given to him from his aunt … to give to his cousin who was shot, for pain,” the police report said.
Police said they found six pills of Tylenol 3, which contain codeine and are illegal without a prescription. Hayes’ aunt told police she gave Hayes the pills “for his headaches,” contradicting his story.
He pleaded guilty to felony gun and drug charges in June 2012. But after hiring a new lawyer, John Fuller, he withdrew that plea and accepted misdemeanor charges of illegal carrying of a weapon and possession of drug paraphernalia in January 2014. He received a suspended six-month sentence.
Fuller now represents him in the murder case.
“He was one of the few persons who learned from his mistakes,” Chaplin insisted.
Hayes lived in New Orleans East with his mother but had relatives not far from the barbershop, his friends said. He attended My Redeemer Missionary Baptist Church on Washington Avenue.
“Normally our conversation is centered around fatherhood, his excitement about being a dad, his excitement about his son growing up, going to school the first time,” said the Rev. Sha’Teek Nobles Sr., who grew up with Hayes. “He’s not just an Easter, Mother’s Day, Christmas attendee. He’s a member of our church.”
Enisha Thomas, a friend from the barbershop, described Hayes as “a big strong dude, but he don’t like confrontation.”
“There’s people around who love him so much, there has to be a reason,” Thomas said. “We can see him, but we can’t touch him. That’s what hurts. We can’t touch him and say, ‘Hey, Bear.’ ”
Staff writer Matt Sledge contributed to this story.