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Missing SD teen linked to fire that burned body in trunk of car

MITCHELL, S.D. - Authorities said Wednesday that the disappearance of a Mitchell teenager is believed to be related to what witnesses are calling a fatal fire.

The Hanson County (S.D.) sheriff announced Wednesday afternoon that he is investigating a "suspicious" range fire that consumed a car Tuesday night about three miles southeast of Mitchell. In a separate announcement, the state attorney general said Jasmine Guevara, 16, was missing.

Later Wednesday evening, the attorney general's office issued a third announcement stating that the two cases are believed to be related.

Meanwhile, at least one eyewitness to the Tuesday fire claimed that a body was found in the car's trunk.

Authorities from state and local agencies were at that scene of the fire for much of Wednesday.

Judi Bartscher, whose rural Mitchell home is near the fire scene, told The Daily Republic that she reported the fire to authorities Tuesday night. She said her son, Jon, of Mitchell, was with firefighters and law enforcement when they found a body inside the trunk. The person was burned beyond recognition, she said.

"I was very, very sad," Bartscher said. "All night long, all I could think was, 'There is somebody's child in that trunk. Somebody's family is in that trunk.' "

Bartscher said she and her husband had returned home about 9:35 or 9:40 p.m. Tuesday night and saw flames 200 yards south of their house.

They then drove to a field on the other side of the fire.

"After we did that, I said, 'Oh my God, there is a car burning in the trees,' " she said.

Round hay bales were next to the trees, helping to fuel the fire, Bartscher said.

Hanson County Sheriff Mark Kessler reported in his news release that deputies arrived on the scene with firefighters from Alexandria. They found that a car had been "consumed or mostly consumed" by fire, Kessler's news release said.

"The nature of this fire appears to be suspicious," he said in the release.

Wednesday, emergency-management workers blocked off access to James River Road. Heavy equipment such as a backhoe and forklift were in use at the scene. A forklift was spotted lifting up the car.

State officials said in their news release that they are seeking help from the public about the disappearance of Guevara. She was last seen Tuesday night in a 1999 green Chevrolet Malibu, and people with information are encouraged to call Mitchell police at (605) 995-8400.

Laura Wehde contributed to this report.

Melanie Brandert is a reporter for the Daily Republic in Mitchell, S.D., which is owned by Forum Communications Co.