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Mistaken identity: Farmer mistaken for arson tipster

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news Mitchell, 57301

Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

PLANKINTON -- Jeremy Johnson has done a lot of explaining this week.

Johnson, 35, is a farmer who lives between Mount Vernon and Plankinton, and about four miles north of the scene of a suspected arson that destroyed the home of Ronnie and Deanna Wieczorek in the early morning hours of Jan. 16.

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Last week, The Daily Republic reported Jeremy Johnson -- that is, another man named Jeremy Johnson -- provided the Mitchell Police Division with a digital photo of a burning house sent to him in a text message, accompanied by a message that read "what we do lol," on Feb. 1, according to court documents.

"The phone was ringing off the hook with people thinking it was me," Johnson said in an interview Thursday with The Daily Republic. "It wasn't me."

Johnson said at least a dozen people have called to ask whether he was the person who tipped off the police about the fire.

As a result of the evidence shared with police, Brandon Mehlbrech, 27, of Mitchell, and Allen Antaya, 20, of Plankinton, are each charged with first-degree arson, a felony with a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

"I don't want people thinking it was me that was involved with those kids," Johnson said.

Johnson said he does not know the tipster with whom he shares a name.

"It was a pretty odd situation to be in," he said. "Thank God it wasn't something worse."

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