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Did tweeting kill surgeon to the stars?

It was death by social networking. That's what the friends and famous patients of Dr Frank Ryan, a prominent Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, have been saying about the high-speed car crash which caused his sudden and untimely death this week, at the age of 50.

Police in Los Angeles sparked a national conversation about the dangers of using mobile telephones at the wheel yesterday, when they revealed that the sometime reality TV star may have been "texting or Twittering" when he drove his Jeep off a cliff next to the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu on Monday afternoon.

Shortly before the accident, at 3.45pm, Dr Ryan had decided to inform his 2,000 Twitter followers that he was climbing up a large sand dune next to the famous road, which runs along the Californian coast from San Diego to San Francisco. "Much harder than it looks!" he said. "Whew!"

Soon afterwards, at 4.10pm, he used Twitter to share a photograph of his border collie Jill "surveying the view" from the top.

But by 4.35pm, Dr Ryan, who had nipped and tucked such famous scraps of artificially enhanced humanity as rock star Gene Simmons and model Janice Dickinson -- and was also responsible for piecing together boxer Oscar De La Hoya after his fights -- was no more.

Witnesses said his 1995 Jeep had suddenly veered off a picturesque stretch of road a few miles east of Ventura. It rolled 200ft down cliffs next to the Pacific Ocean, and landed on its roof. Dr Ryan was trapped in the vehicle with serious head injuries, and pronounced dead by paramedics at the scene.



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Jill, the dog who had been the subject of his now-famous last tweet, was thrown clear of the Jeep, and survived with what a vet described as minor eye and paw injuries.

The doctor's former celebrity patients aired messages of condolence, in 140 characters or less, via their own accounts on the social networking website.

"I am devastated. He was the most amazing person I have ever known. He was an angel and he changed my life," said Heidi Montag, the former star of MTV's reality drama The Hills. "Dr Frank Ryan changed the world."

Earlier this year, Montag had controversially agreed to be filmed undergoing 10 simultaneous cosmetic procedures in Dr Ryan's Beverly Hills surgery, including liposuction, fat grafts, chin reduction and a second boob job.

Other tributes to Dr Ryan were paid by Gene Simmons, the cosmetically enhanced, 60-year-old lead singer of Kiss, who described him as: "Soft spoken, caring and professional."

A spokesman for Janice Dickinson said she was "deeply anguished" at news of his death.

Dr Ryan's death has highlighted the dangers of sending text messages from behind the wheel. Although recently banned in California, lobbying from the telecommunications industry means that it remains legal in 20 of America's 50 states.

"We haven't confirmed anything regarding the cause of the collision," California Highway Patrol officer Steve Reid said, adding that detectives are "looking into several factors, including texting and Twittering that may have played a role in the accident."

hnews@herald.ie