Cardell Hayes is a HERO -- who saved MULTIPLE LIVES by shooting Will Smith before he could get to his gun ... so says the passenger in Cardell's car.
The passenger, Kevin O'Neal, has lawyered up -- and backs up Hayes' account of the shooting ... saying Smith was the aggressor.
In fact, Oneale's lawyer issued a statement to WDSU ...saying, "My client believes that Cardell saved his life."
"Smith had a gun and was going to shoot it and Cardell may have saved both of their lives … in my mind this is justifiable homicide."
"Was Will Smith acting like a Saint? This was a hit-and-run that ended up in a tragedy. You’ve got the aggression of two football players, facing off with each other as if they are on the field and you are going to get your point across by any means necessary."