Co-owner of Bellingham bar dies after kitchen accident

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 18, 2013 

BELLINGHAM - The co-owner of a Bellingham bar died suddenly this week after an accident in the kitchen, but his partner plans to keep the business going.

Henri-Claude DeGuchi, 38, who had worked at restaurants and bars for years, cut his finger near the tip during a Sunday night shift at Stella, 311 E. Holly St. The bleeding didn't seem terribly serious at the time, so DeGuchi declined medical help and treated himself, according to police. He got a ride to his home on Toledo Street so he could clean himself up.

An acquaintance went to check on him at 11 a.m. Monday. DeGuchi had passed out, possibly from the loss of blood, and fallen down the stairs at his home, said his partner of six years, Greg Pierce. He was found dead.

Police responded and learned there was blood in the bar, too. They spent much of Monday afternoon investigating the unusual circumstances, cordoning off a stretch of sidewalk outside the bar for hours.

Official results of an autopsy had not been released as of Thursday, but police don't suspect foul play.

Pierce and DeGuchi - a sushi chef with a "beautiful, beautiful love of food" - moved from California to Bellingham last year with plans to start up the bar. A graduate of Georgetown University, DeGuchi was "probably the most brilliant human being I've met in my entire life," Pierce said.

They designed the menu and the bar together. Less than a year after opening Stella, they had big plans for the future, like expanding their business into a kind of event center.

Pierce was in Michigan visiting his mother - a rare moment apart for the couple - when Monday's accident interrupted those dreams.

Since then, support from the community has amazed Pierce.

"So many people are just there for us, you know? They're putting flowers on the porch," he said.

The bar has been closed for the past few days, out of respect for DeGuchi. And, Pierce said, because Stella needs a little mourning time, too.

"But we're going to keep going," he said. "We're not going anywhere, because we put our heart and soul into that bar."

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 21, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 1110 14th St., Fairhaven. Afterward, attendees can head to Stella to share their memories of DeGuchi.

CORRECTION: The time and location of the funeral has been updated.

Reach Caleb Hutton at 360-715-2276 or caleb.hutton@bellinghamherald.com. Read his dispatcher blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/dispatcher or follow him on Twitter at @bhamcrime.

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