Originally created 02/28/04

Reward offered in man's slaying



James "Mike" Pantoja was more than 500 miles away, driving his tractor-trailer in Vicksburg, Miss., when he heard the news that his father was killed.

He said he didn't hesitate to turn around and head back to Augusta after his 81-year-old father, Manuel, was found dead.

"We're all right here in town now," Mr. Pantoja said. "I got back as quick as I could."

Investigators are hoping that a reward will lead them to the person who killed his father, officials said Friday.

"The whole family is distraught because of the way he was done," his son said Friday evening.

Richmond County sheriff's Sgt. Scott Peebles said his agency was offering an "unspecified" reward for information in the death of Manuel Pantoja, 81, of the Augusta Estates mobile home park on Milledgeville Road.

The disabled World War II veteran was found dead Wednesday evening by sheriff's deputies, who were called to the residence after a concerned neighbor called police.

Mr. Pantoja said his father, who lived alone with a dog and cats, preferred to live by himself.

Sgt. Peebles said the amount of the reward is dependent on what kind of information is offered and to what extent investigators can use the information.

Sgt. Peebles also said that investigators now believe Mr. Pantoja was accosted at the front door during a robbery attempt, where he was initially assaulted with a knife or straight edge.

"It was not only a murder, it was an overkill," Mike Pantoja said. "Only an animal would do something like that.

"My father was a loving man, and a very giving man," he said. "He would give his shirt off of his back if he had to.

"I want this person (arrested) and prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

A memorial service for Manuel Pantoja will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Thomas L. King Funeral Home, 124 Davis Road, in Martinez.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the Richmond County Sheriff's Office at 821-1080.

All information will be handled confidentially.

Reach Jeremy Craig at (706) 823-3409 or jeremy.craig@augustachronicle.com.